Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release: 9th October 2014
Genre: YA, Mental Health
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
"I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me. A group of emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers gather at a therapeutic boarding school where they are mysteriously picked for 'Special Topics in English'. Here, they are tasked with studying Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and keeping a journal. Each time the teens write in their diaries they are transported to a miraculous other world called Belzhar, a world where they are no longer haunted by their trauma and grief - and each begins to tell their own story."
Belzhar is the kind of book that whilst I enjoyed it for the most part I did have a few problems with it that could easily have tipped my favour the other way.
The idea behind the book really caught my attention and made Belzhar a highly anticipated read of 2014 and the plot really lived up to my expectations. I loved reading about a highly coveted and exclusive class in literature that helps “emotionally fragile teenagers” with their mental state. Mrs Q was one of those inspirational and mysterious teachers that I always wish I encountered at school and her lessons on the importance of words and sharing stories was so interesting and poignant to read. I loved the close knit connection the characters in the class developed with each other and the mystery and intrigue of what Belzhar actually is really kept the pages turning.
Despite all of the good in Belzhar there were a couple of things I really didn’t enjoy. I never really connected with Jam as the main character. As somebody who has been depressed I know that feeling all too well and her depression just didn’t come through for me in the writing as it should with any good book about mental health. In fact I didn’t feel like the topic of mental health was dealt with very well at all. The teens at this school all seemed to have gone through some trauma to trigger a mental illness which is not always the case and this lack of understanding added a falseness to the plot.
Another annoyance of mine was the romance and Reeve’s character as a whole. He’s dripping in British stereotypes with no real personality besides his Britishness and as a Brit I just found it so cringey to read.
Whilst Belzhar had a lot of good it also had a lot of bad. Although I enjoyed the book as a whole I’m disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to the early excitement for me.