Author- Meg Wolitzer.
Publish date- October 1st, 2014.
Publisher- Simon and Schuster.
RRP- $16.99 (AUD)
Jam is unable to recover from a tragedy that shook her life, stealing away her happiness and will, and so her parents send her to a school. There she is put into a special english class and meets four other teenagers who have all been through their own tragedy, and she is also given a very strange journal, which brings on stranger things when she writes in it.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster for this review copy!
Image Credit: Simon and Schueter.
I was intrigued by Belzhar (which, after a very long time, I can only just begin to pronounce properly- or what I hope is properly). Intrigued, captivated, moved and, ultimately, let down.
But that, as people in novels often say, is getting ahead of myself.
The story starts with possibly the best (vying with The Book of Days) opening I've read this year, and it caught my attention and held it, wondered about loosing it a little later, then held it in a not particularly firm grip, but a grip nonetheless.
The point where the 5 Special Topics (not tropics, as I often mistook and read) in English class students (students of a school for teenagers who would not cope in a regular school situation) start to share their stories was captivating. These are dark stories, the reasons behind why they are at the school and whilst I did throughly enjoy getting each story, felt the characters truly taking shape before me as I understood them, their motives and, in all 5 cases, what had left them broken, yet it felt a bit clockwork-like. I knew I would get the next story within the next two chapters, and I would have liked some to be more unexpected in how we discovered them- I also found it frustrating/unfair, from the point of view of the other characters, that through we readers learnt all the stories, two weren't shared with the group (one is planned to, in mention). Everyone else cracked open a dark part in their lives, gave something precious and intimate to these others, and it seemed bitterly unfair that not everyone reciprocated, not everyone, apart from Jam, got to know each story.
This, and a few other things, were relatively small (that the biggest until we got to the end) problems for me, though, and they didn't stop me following the story avidly (I thought to use the word "enjoy", but from my experience with this novel that would be a very unfitting word) and wanted to know the truth of these broken characters in such a strong manner that I felt like they had become little more than presentations at a show, with me the eager onlooker.
I can't say that, apart from Sierra, I truly liked any of the characters. Her story hit me with few stops pulled, and her character felt like the most vivid and real for me, though I also note that liking the characters didn't feel wholly necessary. I understood them and I felt for and with them and I think that's what was needed. Not like or dislike. Understanding.
The reason I ended up feeling so disappointed in the story, why I started to feel dislike for the way things turned creeping forward, that would involve revealing something incredibly spoilery, the whole plot (well, a large, large portion of it) gone. I will try very hard to keep it clean, but best you've read/don't plan to read the book before reading the following (highlight it), just in case.
*Spoilery!*The truth about Jam's story was really surprising (well, I'd suspected but not for a while, and the way it came about still surprised me) and for the sympathy I had felt for her, the emotion I and other characters had felt, I felt like I had been deviously lied to. And I'm very mixed when I think that, because I still feel sorry for her, still understand and if it was a true to life situation I would understand it more clearly and not feel the frustration or annoyance, but with Jam, what she did and felt and how she acted, I couldn't help but thikn she was a little ridiculous. I couldn't believe her, actually, and I felt very, very frustrated.*Endofspoilerybits!*
My final (well) point is that Jam calls herself, referring to her past, one of the "nice" girls. Three times this happens and it just frustrated me endlessly. She uses it as an explaination as to why her behaviour was so surprising, like she wouldn't usually do this or that because she was one of the nice girls, and I got sick of it- because of how she paints herself and her actions and other people around her who don't fit into that catagory. I started to wonder if maybe she was truly evil and wanting to ward everyone off the signal.
Jam is also quite judgemental, I felt, of a number of things.
Jam has been sent, unwillingly, by her parents to the Wooden Barn, and she wants to go home but they don't allow it, not until she's lasted a semester at least, AND YET her mother, later in the book, suggests pulling her out early when she is actually starting to show improvement. I found this very irritating.
Rating: Poor. Sometimes a level down, sometimes a level or even two up, but smushed together...
Belzhar was unique (though I was reminded a bit of The Dead Poets Society with the descriptions, way of teaching, school feel, ect.) and intriguing and I thought it was done well, but Jam was a character I didn't have a connection with, and my irritations with some of her actions outweighed my enjoyment in or of the story itself.