A copy of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster Australia for review.
I just don't particularly know where to start talking about Belzhar. I know that I can say I had quite high hopes for this book – I mean, a girl who writes in a journal and is reunited with her dead boyfriend? Hells to the yeah. But I can also say that these hopes were, unfortunately, not met.
I found Jam (full name Jamaica – what is with YA books and names at the moment, seriously?) to be kind of an annoying character. She’s incredibly self centred and doesn’t really seem to care about anyone in her life, except in the most basic way possible. Her story is that her boyfriend, Reeve, died and she couldn’t cope with it so she was sent to a school for “the emotionally fragile”. Here she is given a journal and whenever she writes in it, she’s transported to Belzhar where she can be with him again.
I was kind of let down by Belzhar (the place). I thought it would be this once place where all the kids went and had super awesome fun magic times. But instead, it’s a different place for all of them, where whatever bad has happened hasn’t happened yet. Sure, this is kind of cool, but it got a little repetitive after a while.
I think the premise of the journals was quite interesting, but I’m not 100% sold on whether or not they were needed in this book. Especially since their powers or whatever were never truly explained. And besides, isn’t it a bit unprofessional and dangerous for the teacher to be giving out journals to teenagers when she knows weird shit goes down when they use them? Hello, duty of care!
The supporting cast of characters in Belzhar had heaps of potential, but each and every one of them fell flat. They all had these tortured pasts, but instead of uncovering them, it was like I was just told about them. Each of the characters just had a huge monologue that took up a few pages explaining what had happened to them and what they saw in Belzhar. This was a huge disappointment, because some of their stories were heartbreaking, and it was practically impossible to really care about their stories and what happened to them when they were such mechanical characters.
The ending. I’m just gonna come out and say that I did not like it. I guess perhaps it was going for the “shock” effect but I was left with more of a “WTF” feeling more than anything else. Like, I understand that everyone deals with events in their life in a different way, but what happened to Jam was so completely weird that it was hard to sympathise with her in any way. I was just left nonplussed by the whole thing.
All in all, Belzhar was a novel with an interesting concept that just fell flat for me.
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