Meg Wolitzer's first Young Adult novel is a bittersweet tale of depression, memory and self deception, combined with a little bit of magical realism and some fitting references to Sylvia Plath. The novel opens with Jamicia 'Jam' Gallahue, a teenager who has shut herself down emotionally after the death of her boyfriend, being sent to a boarding school for kids with special needs. At the school, Jam is chosen for a special and exclusive English class along with four other students, where they will be studying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The choice of The Bell Jar is totally appropriate as all students in this class have closed themselves off emotionally. However, when their teacher asks the students to keep a journal, it becomes clear that this truly is an extraordinary class. Through their journals, the students are each taken back to the moments directly before their lives took a strange turn. Together the students meet to talk of their experiences and a strange bond is formed that helps them to heal. But the real twist in the story is yet to come ... and it certainly is a surprising one.
Belzhar was a quick read. The themes of love, loss and, ultimately, acceptance were easy to relate to and are totally appropriate for the teenage target audience. I enjoyed the twist at the end and found myself nodding my head at Jam's predicament--although her situation was extreme, I think we have all had moments when we would rather not see or hear obvious truths. Although I felt that the novel could have been longer and gone a bit more into the stories of Jam's classmates, I did enjoy it as it was. Recommended.
Big shout out and thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my review copy. Thanks!