Jam hasn't been the same since her boyfriend died. Her parents finally decide to send her to a boarding school called The Wooden Barn for students who are "emotionally fragile and highly intelligent." So all the kids here have been through something.
Jem is chosen, along with only four other students, to be in a class called Special Topics in English. She has no idea why she was chosen, but other students are jealous of this very secretive, highly selective class.
The other students in the class are quiet and all have been through traumatic experiences that they can't get over. It really isn't clear what those experiences are, but slowly they are revealed. The students in the class become close, especially after they realize that their required journal writing sends them back in time to the happier time right before this traumatic event.
They begin meeting in secret and trying to figure out what is going on and whether their teacher knows these red leather journals she gave them possess some kind of magic.
Belzhar is really about growing and changing and learning from mistakes. The title is pronounced "bell jar" because the Special Topics class is reading only Sylvia Plath this semester, and the students name the place their journaling takes them "Belzhar."
There's a bit of romance and a shock when we learn Jam's story. There is heartbreak, and loss, and healing. All of these students come out stronger in the end.
I loved Belzhar. I was afraid the magic would be hokey, but it felt right and suitably magical. I enjoyed learning about all the characters and their struggles, big or small. The writing was great, and pulled me into the story.
I need to read The Bell Jar and some of Plath's poetry. I would highly recommend this book to teens who enjoy contemporary stories that they can easily relate to (even though they hopefully have not experienced the trauma that these teens have!)
Published by Dutton BFYR, September 30, 2014
ARC obtained from Library Media Connection Magazine
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