BookPage Teen Top Pick, October 2014
Following the success of her best-selling adult novel The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer brings her considerable talents to her first young adult title, Belzhar. Wolitzer returns to a subject that occupied her as a senior in college, when she was completing her first novel: the poet Sylvia Plath.
“Big changes happen to young people when no adults are around,” notes Wolitzer, and that is certainly true for Jam Gallahue and the other students in Mrs. Quenell’s Special Topics in English class at The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile and highly intelligent teens.” It’s a last resort for Jam, who fiercely loved British exchange student Reeve Maxfield for 41 days, and has been unable to recover from his death.
Jam and the other students don’t know why they’ve been selected for Mrs. Quenell’s class. And they certainly don’t know what to make of the antique journals she hands out, along with the assignment to write in them twice a week. Even more puzzling is their teacher’s instruction to “look out for one another.” But soon after beginning her journal, Jam has no choice but to turn to her classmates for support, because what she experiences while writing is both frightening and exciting. The journals have the power to transport them into a world of the past—a world they call Belzhar, after Plath’s most famous work, The Bell Jar.
Enlivened by humor, memorable characters and a page-turning mystery only revealed in its final pages, Belzhar explores the role of trauma in young lives. Fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars need wait no longer for another novel to capture their hearts and minds.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is The Great Trouble.