Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

When the students in Mrs. Quenell’s Special Topics in English receive their journals, they have mixed emotions. However, when they start to write, they discover the journals take them to the moment in time in their lives just before tragedy struck. For the narrator, Jam, this moment is on a field with her boyfriend Reeve just before his death. Jam and the other students decide to name the world of their transported experiences. Pronounced like the zhuh in Jacques, Belzhar is a French take on Bell Jar to honor the writer they are studying, Sylvia Plath.  At first, trips to Belzhar become an obsession for the students. But as the semester progresses, they find solace not in traveling to the past, but in each other.

Meg Wolitzer, best known for her adult fiction, has written a fast-paced novel for teens.  The reader, like the students, is easily transported through the writing. Even if the cynical reader rolls her eyes at Jam’s young love, she is guiltily rewarded when she finds out the narrator has not been recounting events exactly as they occurred. That, along with a happy resolution for one of the other tragic stories, helps the book end on a sweet, rather than bittersweet, note.