I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Book Depository • Published by Penguin on September 30, 2014
Source: the publisher
If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.
She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.
But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.
Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.
Jam has a mental breakdown of sorts and gets sent off to a boarding school for kids with issues called The Wooden Barn. She and four others end up in a class together called Selected Topics for English in which they’re given a copy of The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath and a red leather journal to write in. This book deals with heavy topics of depression as well as a touch of magical realism.
So, what happens when they write in the journal? They go to this realm that exists in their minds of a time before their breaks. Jam goes to the soccer field where she meets Reeve. Casey is in the car with her mom. Griffin is in the barn. Marc is in his house. Sierra is on the bus with her brother. It’s seemingly perfect, and each trip they take takes up five pages of writing in the journal, which lasts the whole semester.
Although this is now how we in the real world deal with our problems, it’s a brilliant way to scrunch it all down to one semester of dealing with these characters’ issues. Jam mentions it near the end of the novel, but a lot of the stuff (or that one big thing) that changes the way we act and/or view the world usually doesn’t get dealt with in a short time of it happening to us. It’s usually later on, sometime into adulthood. We have that, “Oh, right!” moment in which we realize that that’s why we act a certain way toward people or do things a certain way. It all goes back to that experience.
Something that really bugged me, but worked out in Jam’s story’s favor was the focus on British stereotypes while she reminisces about her time with Reeve. He’s this football-loving, Monty Python jokester on top of several other super stereotypes. After a while, it wore me down, especially since some aspects of how she perceived him were repeated over and over again. But it plays into her last time in Belzhar and what she experiences there and deals with there.
Something that I felt might have needed a bit more clearing up was that although these characters face their life-changing experience yet again, it’s not the cure for their trauma. They still have more healing to do, so the journal and Belzhar were just stepping stones to highlight what’s really going on for them.
[[I listened to the audiobook and finished with the ARC because I get impatient]]