04 April 2015

Review: Belzhar

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

For as much as I read, I have my share of gaps in things I haven't read, and one of those gaps is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Why I've skipped it thus far, I have no idea, but I know that it didn't hurt my enjoyment of Belzhar in the slightest.

This book takes place at a boarding school and focuses mainly on a girl who joins the school following the death of her boyfriend. She is placed in what is viewed as a special, exclusive English class with four other students, all of which have fairly tragic stories of their own. The class will focus on the works of Sylvia Plath, and they're given a journal to keep their thoughts and feelings in, required to write in it twice a week. When they write in the journal, however, they're transported to a place where what went wrong is seemingly set right again. The question then becomes why, as well as what happens in this land being righted.

It's a weird book, no doubt about it. What's kind of great about it is how plainly and directly it handles the issue of depression, especially in teens (and unsurprising given the topic central to the tale), and in behavioral ways to deal with it. I liked that it didn't pretend to trivialize the issues in play - Jam's problem, when revealed, is treated with the same weight and importance as anyone else, one girl's options toward the end are clearly meant to mirror something specific and are given the proper weight, and so on. It's weird to say this in a sense, but it feels rare to see a young adult book tackle the concepts behind depression in a non-pandering way, if they opt to address it at all. It also doesn't hurt that the story itself is good, with interesting characters, a unique conceit, and a pretty solid pace for a book like this.

Overall, a good read. Definitely recommended for fans of Wolitzer or Plath, but also worth it for those teens who might be struggling a bit. We don't talk about depression enough as is, this might be the shift that someone needs before it's too late.

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