Tag: Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Posted November 21, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Young Adult / 0 Comments

Belzhar by Meg WolitzerTitle: Belzhar (Goodreads)
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2014
Pages: 266
Genres: Magical Realism, Young Adult
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Life isn’t fair; if it was, Jam Gallahue wouldn’t be shipped off to boarding school and her British boyfriend would still be alive. Belzhar tells the story of Jam, a damaged girl who was sent off to a therapeutic boarding school in Velmont called The Wooden Barn. There she was enrolled into a mysterious class called Special Topics in English where she was assigned books by Sylvia Path. Part of her homework included writing in a journal which magical sends her back into her memories to help her reclaim her past.

Jam whose real name is Jamaica is a damaged teenager; no one seems to understand how she feels and what she is going through. The same way Esther Greenwood felt within The Bell Jar. Belzhar is a psychological novel that explores the themes from Sylvia Plath’s writing in a modern day YA novel. While this book focuses on the damage that losing a boyfriend can have (especially if he dies) there was something far more scarring that just wasn’t dealt with. The protagonist got her name, Jamaica from the place her parents conceived her; I don’t know about you but I find that is far more disturbing than losing a loved one (not really).

The book takes this idea found in The Bell Jar that Jam and the other people in this class are vacuum sealed in a world no one else understands. The ideas from The Bell Jar such as depression, loneliness and suffering all play out within Meg Wolitzer’s novel in a really interesting way. This is a unique form of literary criticism; it allows the reader to get a fundamental understanding into The Bell Jar on a very basic level.

I have read a few YA novels recently and they all had a psychological element in it that I want to talk about but I do not want to spoil the plot (See review for We Are Liars soon). This makes it really difficult, because there is so much to talk about but I am very conscious about spoilers. One thing I will talk about is the magical realism thread within the book; Belzhar is the magical place they go to in their memories and relive life before things got messed up. It is an interesting way to dive into the past and deal with issues. I found it a unique way to explore the complexities of the mind via this very simple plot device.

I am not too often on-board with a magical realism thread but as I have found with Haruki Murakami it becomes a useful tool in exploring the mind. When we think about our brain, it does not conform to the laws that govern reality and the magical realism allows the author to work with that. The travels into Belzhar were just a different way to experience a flashback and I quickly accepted with the way Meg Wolitzer did that. I was a little worried when I started but I am glad I persisted.

Belzhar makes me want to revisit The Bell Jar which is a fantastic book if you have never read it. I think the biggest praise I can give Meg Wolitzer is for the loving tenderness she had towards Sylvia Plath and her writing. I have borrowed Ariel from the library to experience some of Plath’s poetry and Belzhar has left me with a renewed appreciation for this author.