"I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died." -- Jam Gallahue
Jam has been in a deep depression since she lost her boyfriend, Reeve. Her parents have decided to send her to The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens. She gets enrolled in a class called Special Topics in English and is assigned a special journal to write in about her feelings. What she doesn't realize is that this isn't just any old journal. When she writes in it, she is transported to a place where she can be with Reeve again. And when she discovers that the journal is working the same for the other four people in the class with her, they make a plan to make sure they don't waste this amazing opportunity.
What I Liked
I really enjoyed the stories of all of these kids. It didn't just pour out on the pages in one long narrative. I had to wait and find out what happened to the kids along with Jam. That really made me want to keep reading. Also, they were such likable kids! You wouldn't think that a boarding school for troubled teens would have students that have so much to offer, but these kids made me want to cheer for them! Their teacher was pretty awesome as well. But maybe I'm a bit biased when it comes to how teachers are portrayed in literature.
Also, the wording of this book and its underlying message of the power of writing were important to me. Jam realizes that writing about her feelings is the reason why she was able to move on. And the other kids realize it too. Sometimes we just have to let our feelings out to a unknown entity that can't answer back and try to solve all of our problems for us. We just need to pour it out on paper and then leave it behind and never look at it again. This is the power of writing. This is the power of Belzhar to the students in this class. I love that.
There is so much imagery in this book. Not only does the main character learn about the beauty that words can bring into our lives, but the author invites us into that way of thinking as well. My favorite example of this is at the end of the book when Jam realizes just how far she has come on her journey.
"And I also know that pain can seem like an endless ribbon. You pull it and you pull it. You keep gathering it toward you and as it collects, you really can't believe that there's something else at the end of it. Something that isn't just more pain.
But there's always something else at the end; something at least a little different. You never know what that thing will be, but it's there." -- p. 253
I like the idea that there is something other than pain waiting for you after you have dealt with so much of it already. Wolitzer doesn't sugar coat it for us. She lets us know that it won't be a complete turn around to extreme happiness because we all know that isn't always the case. She respects the reader enough to tell us the truth: things will change eventually, but slowly. We just have to keep pulling at that ribbon until it exposes what's waiting for us on the other side.