Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Original story about grief, depression and moving on. You won't find anything else quite like it and there's a twist we didn't see coming. It's not perfect but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1471123766

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I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no-one knew what to do with me.

Jam's grief for Reeve has left her paralysed. She does nothing but think of him and the forty-one days of their relationship. She's not interested in school. friends, food, family, even therapy. And so, in desperation, Jam's parents send her off to a boarding school for Kids With Problems. Her room-mate at the Wooden Barn, DJ, has an eating disorder. But Jam doesn't really care about that, nor does she care that she has been selected for a mysterious class: Special Topics in English, which is giving DJ some major green-eye.

There are only five kids in the Special Topics class, which is led by Mrs Quenell, and only one book to study for the entire semester: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. You might think a story of depression by an author who committed suicide is an odd choice for a group of vulnerable, emotionally fragile teenagers. Jam and the group think that. But Mrs Quenell has a way about her and the journals she gives the group to write in introduce them to a whole new world. When Jam writes in hers, she can be with Reeve again...

... but of course, nobody can live in the past forever.

I really, really enjoyed Belzhar. The title is a play on the title of the Plath book, of course, and it's the name the group gives to the magical world they're taken to via their journals. In Belzhar, they can go back to enjoying the lives they led before disaster struck. The world hasn't moved on, leaving them stuck in the past. But as much as this is a story about grief and trauma and depression, it is also a story about moving on. And underneath that, it's a story about the power of words and stories to soothe, lift and empower us. I don't want to say too much about what happens - stories with magic are spoiled by too much signposting, aren't they? - so I'll say there's a twist in the tale that I didn't see coming and leave it at that.

It isn't perfect. There are a few places in which things could be tidied up - Mrs Quenell's role in it all doesn't quite make sense to me, sometimes both the reading of Plath and the themes of mental health felt somewhat superficial - but the main thing I took from Belzhar was that there isn't another book anything like it. If you don't enjoy cookie-cutter stories and you love literature, you'll want to read it.

Other super stories of young people dealing with children and mental health issues include From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma and Catcall by Linda Newbery.

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Buy Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer at


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