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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Belzhar

Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer

I liked the premise of Belzhar, but the execution did not always work for me. Sure it has a very strange turn of events that I was not expecting, but it's the way everyone acted about these events that bothered me most. I get that this world of Belzhar—an alternative reality this “breakfast club” journeys to when writing in their journals where their various traumas never happened—that this world isn't truly real, that it may even just be symbolic of the process of grief writing, but I do expect the characters to respond to it in realistic ways. What's amazing is that Wolitzer developed these characters in a way which they actually resemble real teenagers, yet they act like complete morons when Belzhar is revealed: What if someone finds out? We might get kicked out of school. And we shouldn't tell our mysterious English teacher who may very well have dropped out of the Twilight Zone and clearly knows what's going on. And Ms. Quenell seems to lack considerable common sense for someone as mature—and other worldly—as she is. To me, it seemed some of the characters actions were forced in order to fulfill the requirements of the plot.

 

That being said, Jam's big reveal toward the end was amazing in so many ways. First of all, it was unexpected. Second, it made her character so much more interesting and faceted. And third, it showed how much the author understood the mind of a slightly-neurotic teenage girl. I loved this moment and those that followed; it erased some of my previous annoyances about the characters being unrealistic.

 

This was my second exposure to Wolitzer's work and I truly enjoy her style and ideas. This one was written for a teenage audience and I think that distanced me somewhat from the story. Overall, it was a little light on character and language throughout, but in the end, I do have to give Wolitzer kudos for adding an extra dimension or two to our protagonist.