Publishing Info: September 30, 2014 by Penguin
Source: BEA 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: September 20, 2014
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.
BELZHAR is a difficult book for me to review. While I enjoyed the book as I was reading it, a few things just didn’t sit right with me in the end and it left me feeling a bit confused about what I had just read and how I felt about it. (Then again, if I actually read synopses through thoroughly AND even remembered what they were before I read the book, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had such big issues. This is, however, a THING I do since I try to leave as many twists alive in a book as possible before I start reading.)
Well, BELZHAR (the “zh” pronounced like the “J” in Jacques, for those who didn’t know!) is a bit of magical realism, which is always hit or miss for me. I’ve loved books like FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS which has quite a bit of magical realism, but doesn’t shy away from the fantastical elements and then I find myself on the fence about books like BELZHAR which tend to stick to a mostly realistic world with a specific magical element — and I think that’s the part of magical realism that doesn’t quite work out for me. I love fantasy and I love contemporary but to mix the two in one book is a bit difficult for me. I’m more inclined to believe in the fantasy part of a story if there is more fantasy in it. If it feels too realistic, the magical elements feel too unbelievable. This of course has nothing to do with how the book was written — it was simply an element that was an important part of the book that I just couldn’t connect with as I was reading.
That being said, I actually enjoyed the contemporary romance/realistic fiction aspect of this. I actually had a lot of sympathy for Jam (well, in the beginning) because she had lost her boyfriend and she was going through such a rough time. As the book progressed, I really enjoyed getting to know her, but honestly, I liked some of the secondary characters more than I did Jam. Her despair became a bit taxing for me as I continued to read and as much as I wanted to continue to sympathize for her, by the end of the book (once we really find out the whole story with Jam and her boyfriend since she chooses not to reveal everything to her friends all at once), I was just really frustrated with the whole situation.
I just feel so CONFLICTED. I enjoyed the book as I was reading and yet, once I finished, I felt like I had all of these emotions that I didn’t feel while I was reading. It was a very confusing situation and ultimately, that really changed my overall view of the book. Those little things that just didn’t sit right with me were actually very big things once I really started to think about it so I came off totally torn.
“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!
Jam // Character Obsessions: British boyfriend Reeve, avoidance, despair, being alone.
Oh, Jam. I really wanted to like you. I really tried… But in the end, I just didn’t think you should have been the protagonist of this story.
Once I found out Jam’s FULL story, it actually changed my feelings about her entirely. I just really didn’t like her reactions and I felt like that really weakened her character for me.
Kept Me Hooked On: Classics? I hadn’t read THE BELL JAR but from the book, I’m actually intrigued! I love when a book gets me interested in some classics again (though let’s be honest. I still probably won’t read it.)
Left Me Wanting More: Realism. Sigh. The magical aspect of this book just didn’t seem to fit for me. I feel like it could have been done a bit differently… but then again, I have no creative feedback as to HOW so what do I know haha. Overall, it just wasn’t something that sat well with me.
Get a second opinion
I just feel all over the board on this one. What do you think, friends? I feel like this book incites very mixed reactions amongst readers. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!
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(Click the cover to see my review!)