(Magical Realism at Boarding School): Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

(Magical Realism at Boarding School): Belzhar by Meg WolitzerBelzhar by Meg Wolitzer
on 2014-10-01
Pages: 272
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.

Jam Gallahue hasn’t been coping since the tragic loss of her boyfriend, Reeve. Heartbroken and depressed, her parents send her to a boarding school for fragile youth in hopes that there Jam will get the help she needs. Despondent Jam doesn’t want to move on from her grief. Chosen as one of a select few, Jam finds herself in a class studying The Bell Jar and it is there, with the help of her classmates and her special journal, that Jam starts to come to terms with her loss and starts to live again.

Belzhar is heartbreakingly relatable. Readers may not have suffered a loss such as the one Jam went though but her pain is all too realistic and authentic. The idea of writing in a magical journal and being transported back into ones past is slightly bizarre but the desire to go back before life changed for the worst is all too familiar. Jam and her new friends Sierra, Casey, Marc and Griffin are believable and my heart broke for each of them. I loved how they bonded as a group and how each of them faced their pasts. These characters are all so real and were great support for Jam yet each having their own things going on.

I loved how this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and I was so absorbed in the story that I enjoyed being in the moment with the characters. So much so that I didn’t spend any time speculating what was going to happen. Jam was a great choice to narrate the story and her pain at losing Reeve was palpable. I also appreciated how these characters may be slightly jaded and damaged because of their pasts yet for the most part they aren’t completely closed off to the future. There is hope within each of them and it was lovely to see how they approached their presents considering their pasts.

The magical element of this book worked perfectly within the realistic contemporary setting. Each of the characters have experienced a little too much realism in their young lives and the journals provided them with comfort with a lovely dose of whimsy. Jam and the others each come to terms with the moments their lives changed forever and became stronger for having faced these pivotal situations.

This book is beautifully written. For a book dealing with remorse and grief Belzhar is wonderfully entertaining and a joy to read. Jam has to go though so much and the author handled her journey with care and consideration. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys powerfully haunting and exquisitely written fiction.


Thanks to Simon and Schuster Australia for the review copy


  1. It’s weird how this is either a life-changing book or one that people really dislike. Because of…well, Jam. I really didn’t like this one because of her, but it’s lovely that so many people have enjoyed this one 🙂 I definitely agree that it’s really different and interesting!

  2. This is the second really, really positive review I’ve read of this tonight. I’d been a little on the fence as to whether I should read this, but I think now I will. I like unique books, and this one sounds as though it lives up at that idea, anyway. As for Jam, I have to admit I’m a little apprehensive, but curious, too. Great review. 🙂

  3. For a second I thought this was a completely different book, because of the cover! The US one is so bland that I always skip over it, but I jus thad to read your review. And now I’m kind of glad I did – this sounds really interesting, if a bit heartbreaking. And I’ll definitely have to get the UK version off TBD 😉

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