Transporting into an alternate reality

I had mixed feelings about Belzhar. At first, I wasn’t even going to buy it, but I had store credit that I had to use, and the woman working at the bookstore recommended it, so I decided to give it a shot. I do like fantasy, but not as much as I used to. The description on the inside flap says, “When a journal-writing assignment leads Jam into a mysterious other-world, she and her classmates call Belzhar…” which doesn’t seem like a book I would like. But it turns out it was unlike any book I’ve ever read.

One of my favorite things about the book is the main character, Jam Gallahue. From the first mention of her name, I liked her. There’s something about protagonists that don’t have common names — it’s like it adds another dimension to their personalities. Jam is in a school for people who have gone through some type of trauma causing them to not be able to cope in the real world. So, Jam is a girl who is just trying to live day by day while her heart was ripped in half. Or so I thought.

Jam is in a special writing class at The Wooden Barn (her school), and there are four other students in her class. They all have a journal that they write in, and when they do, they go to Belzhar. Belzhar is an alternate reality where the trauma the students went through never happened.  Belzhar is different for all five of them, so I won’t spoil where they go.

Meg Wolitzer went into a territory that I feel like most authors venture away from. She made the main character have a mental illness. When authors do this, I feel like praising them because while mental illness isn’t a happy or fun subject, it’s reality for some people. I love reading stories where everything is good and there’s a happy ending because it makes me feel all warm on the inside. But it’s nice to have books that talk about stuff that we go through when we’re not in the safe hold of reading a book, like mental illness, depression, anxiety, loss, etc. There are so many emotions we have and a good amount of them aren’t good emotions, and yet we still venture away from talking and writing about them.

Belzhar is one of those books that once I pick up, I don’t put down ‘til I finish. Something enticing would be happening in the characters’ real lives, and then all of a sudden the story would be jerked into Belzhar, so I would have to keep reading until I got back to the real world. But of course, once I got back to the real world, something crazy had happened in Belzhar, so I would have to keep reading, and next thing I knew I had finished the book. This book refreshed me. It wasn’t the same-old-same-old plot line with the only difference being the characters. But I just couldn’t accept the plot twist. I won’t spoil it, but my views totally changed on Jam, and I had to re-read parts of the book, because she was a completely different person. But up until the plot twist the book was great, and I guess that was the author’s goal, to completely flip the story upside down. Overall, it’s a great read that I’ll probably read again some day.