Schuster Children’s publishing house. I received an electronic advanced readers copy of this title from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion of this title influenced by the fact that I received this publication free of charge. Now on with the review!
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Childrens
Length: 352 pages
Source: Advanced Copy through NetGalley
If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.
She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.
But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.
Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.
- Plot - Obviously this novel is both very plot centred but also quite driven by the characters. I just need to get this out of the way again but I fully enjoyed the focus of exploring and solving the traumas that the students went through, both physical and especially mental. I loved the mentality of it all. Beautiful. I will admit that a fault I found with this book especially in the first half of the novel was that I felt as if events were just kind of being thrown at me. This happened, then this happened then this happened ect. From this I felt that it could have used some sort of flow just to kind of tie in a couple of the events to make sense to me just why they happened and how they influenced things rather than just being there. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I would like to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but it needs to be identified that Meg Wolitzer handles the students traumas fabulously in my opinion, and I feel that that little aspect of magical realism was needed, as I think in a moment where you are facing such a difficult trauma, looking back on it willingly is hard. Due to this I definitely feel that having that magical realism where they are forced to look back each time they write in the journals kind of adds to the character’s desire for help.
- Characters - It is without a doubt that Meg Wolitzer has a full cast of characters, and to be fair we were introduced to a lot of them in a very short space of time. Confusing? A tad, but as each character developed - each in their own way I must admit, I felt that I wasn’t finding it difficult to distinguish any of them. Each character had their own persona and I was very glad that the author made this quite apparent to us. Jam (Jamaica) as a narrator. Hmmm. At first I felt that I wasn’t quite attached to Jam, she was very much ‘oh I love Reeve so much, Reeve Reeve Reeve’ and to be fair I found that very annoying at first. I now obviously realise why it was annoying and appreciate it all the more. Getting lots of ticks in my book here Wolitzer! As the novel progressed however I felt we really did get a deeper insight into Jam’s character and I feel that it was very much on a ‘Jam reveals what Jam wants to reveal’ kind of basis which I did appreciate a lot, it made the character quite real in the situation. I’ll be brief here, I loved the whole cast of the Special Topics in English class, Sierra had to be my favourite if I was going to be straight. Just the emotional roller coaster that I went through with her character. Just wow. Can I just say as well that I loved Mrs Quenell, I thought she was fantastic and some of the dialogue she came out with could put my english teachers to shame. So delicious some of the stuff she had to say, and as a teacher myself I found it so inspiring that she had just the right amount of wit to know her stuff and teach the kids what they needed to know but also by god did she have a sass side. It was subtle through her ignorance of the children’s hints towards the journals but ha I devoured each page with her on, even as a minor character development wise.
- Writing style - I will admit that this was quite average in my opinion. I felt that at times the dialogue was beautiful as just discussed and there were other times where I was staring at the sentences like, ‘oh my goodness there are too many ands in this paragraph’ and I’ll be honest the teacher side of me came out and I started to count them at one point. However because of this simplicity it really reflected well in the story that was being told. Never once did I really thing about the author, I just got in the idea of the story being authored officially by Jam. Really that’s all I can say with the writing style, it wasn’t fabulous but it suited well for the way the story was being told.
- Emotional impact/trauma- My goodness I do not use the word trauma lightly. Sierra’s ordeal of choosing to remain trapped in Belzhar so she didn’t have to live without her brother being there. Ah it killed me inside, I had tears running down my face when her little brother came on the phone at the end of the novel and left Jam hanging on the other end of the line. I knew Meg Wolitzer wasn’t going to let me down. She could not leave me on an unhappy ending after all of that! I don’t think I’ve gone through this much emotional impact since TFIOS. So besides Sierra was I impacted by the way the story was told/ what happened in the narrative? Yes. Yes I was. I could understand why each of the characters did what they did in their reactions to visiting Belzhar for the last time, I could understand Griffin’s angst throughout the book and I could understand Jam’s reluctance to want to reveal anything until literally the last chapter in the book. Definitely gave me a kind of We Were Liars vibe to all of it. I think the best thing about this book though was even though throughout the book I was looking forward to this big reveal about how Reeve died, I was not disappointed. Metaphorical death can sometimes be just as traumatic as actual death as this book shows. I’ve seen a lot of reviews slandering the ending saying how it was such a let down. I really think those people need to re-read the book carefully and pick out all of the in-depth details that link to why the ending was what is was.