Belzhar

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Belzhar Book Poster Image
Girl uses fantasy world to recover in moody, moving book.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Could open some meaningful discussions about how stories we write and read can be used to help us heal. Also might inspire readers to learn more about Sylvia Plath, including her poetry and her novel The Bell Jar.

Positive Messages

There's a good message here about the possibility of working through trauma with the support of friends and tools such as journal writing.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

The author takes some pretty troubled teens and manages to make them all likable. Jam slowly starts to find reasons to participate in life, including helping friends, looking after her younger brother, and trying to love again.

Violence

A character's friend accidentally sets fire to a barn, killing all the goats inside. Later, he's arrested for stealing a car and is punched in the face by another teen while being held in jail. A girl is paralyzed when her drunk mom drives into a wall. A boy throws a bottle at his father's computer during an argument. A girl remembers a man who seemed obsessed with her younger brother before he was abducted. Jam tells her new friends that her boyfriend died suddenly.  

Sex

Jam and Reeve kiss, and he reaches up her shirt. Later, she kisses and takes off shirts with Griffin. Some other characters are in couples, and one of her friends is being pressured to have sex by her boyfriend, who carries around a condom in his pocket. At a party, Jam walks in on a couple hooking up and another group playing strip poker. At school, Jam's roommate has a girlfriend, much to her girlfriend's mother's dismay. One of the boys in Jam's English class says he saw a porn tape of his father having sex with another woman.

Language

Some strong language, with words including a handful each of "s--t" and "f--k." Also "bitch," "d--k," and "douche bag."

Consumerism

Mint Milano, M&M's, Four Loko, Fruit by the Foot, and Wheat Thins, much of which is eaten by Jam's roommate with eating issues during a food binge. Also, Yankee Candle, Disney World, Charlotte's WebAmerica's Got Talent, and Monty Python.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult is sent to rehab for her alcohol problem. Griffin smokes marijuana on the night he sets the farm on fire, and he brings alcohol when the kids from Jam's class get together. Jam goes to a party where kids are drinking and smoking marijuana; she kisses a boy who says he's "plastered."  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Belzhar, by Meg Wolitze​r, is a coming-of age novel about teens who've experienced trauma: A character's friend accidentally sets fire to a barn, killing all the goats inside; a girl is paralyzed when her drunk mom drives into a wall; a girl’s younger brother is abducted; and protagonist Jam reveals to her new friends that her boyfriend died suddenly. There's some kissing and talk of sex. Jam's friend's boyfriend carries around a condom in his pocket; at a party, Jam walks in on a couple hooking up and another group playing strip poker; and Jam's roommate has a girlfriend, much to her girlfriend's mother's dismay. One of the boys in Jam's English class says that he saw a porn tape of his father having sex with another woman. There's some swearing, drinking, and marijuana smoking. In the end, Jam slowly starts to find reasons to participate in life, including helping friends, looking after her younger brother, and even trying to love again. Belzhar offers a positive message about the possibility of working through trauma with the support of friends and tools such as journal writing. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySnubsjns S. March 21, 2017

It sucks

I think this book sucks

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What's the story?

Jam's parents send her to a school for "fragile" students so she can recover from a trauma. She tells her new friends only that she had a boyfriend who suddenly died. At the Wooden Barn, she ends up in an exclusive English class with four other deeply troubled students. where she is told she will read The Bell Jar and also write in a journal. But when she starts writing in the journal her teacher gave her, something miraculous happens: She's transported to a mysterious place where she can be with Reeve again and relive their moments together. But, as their journals start to fill up, Jam and the other students wonder whether they'll ever be able to visit the place they call Belzhar (named to sound somewhat like "the bell jar") or be their unscathed selves ever again.

Is it any good?

Written in the same vein as books such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, BELZHAR deals beautifully with sensitive teens trying to cope with traumas that have left them forever altered. Beautifully written with great significant details, it will inspire great empathy in readers who will care deeply about the teen characters who have to face the realities of what happened to them (versus the stories they've told themselves) and accept the new realities of their lives.

Last-minute plot twists will surprise readers and force them to rethink the protagonist's tragedy in a whole new way. Many readers will want to read the book one more time once they finish, and it's rich enough to deserve that second read. Though Belzhar has fantasy elements, this is a better choice for realistic fiction lovers; the magical elements are never fully explained.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fantasy elements here. What do you think happens to the characters in Belzhar? Is it a place you would like to go?

  • The fragile students in Jam's English class are surprised to read something as dark as Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which deals with depression and suicidal thoughts. What do you think? Are dark books hurtful or helpful to teens in pain?

  • Jam says, "People are always saying these things about how there's no need to read literature anymore -- that it won't help the world." What do you think? Do words matter anymore?

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