"'...But it's not like you can ask anyone about it now, because
no one who was in that class is still at school. It's mixed grades,
but the last of them graduated or left. I swear, it's like one of
those secret societies.'"
There are five students at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic
boarding high school, who are admitted into a Soecial Topics in
English, the most hard to get into class. On the surface they would
seem to have little or nothing in common. But each has lived through
*Jam (Jamaica), narrator of Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar, is a cute, sweet
girl, not A list, but not nerd, who fell apart when her British
exchange student boyfriend died.
*Ballerina Sierra, originally from New York, let her beloved little
brother, Andre, get off the bus four blocks from their apartment. He
never came home.
*Rich girl Casey became paralyzed and wheelchair bound when her drunk
mother crashed into a stone wall driving home from a neighbor's house.
*Student council president/debate team captain Marc looked up to his
lawyer father until he found graphic evidence of dad's infidelity.
When he told his mother their family fell apart.
*Hostile seeming farmer's son Griffin carries a hidden psychic scar.
The class lasts just one semester. It revolves around the study
of the writings of Sylvia Plath, a poet who took her own life at an
early age, a sort of strange choice given the setting. In addition to
reading and discussing her work, they are to write in journals they
are given twice a week. Although she will never read them, their
teacher will collect and keep them at the end of the class.
But the old fashioned, red leather covered journals are not like
the random volumes I scribble in daily and adorn with stickers and
pictures. These volumes have very strange magical powers...powers
that may prove dangerous as well as alluring.
Alluring is also the best word to describe Belzhar. The
seamless path from realistic fiction into plausible fantasy
transforms what could otherwise be a more maudlin or didactic work.
The characters are complex and believable. The plot is engaging.
What more can I say?
On a personal note, today is election day in Veazie. After six weeks
of campaigning for reelection to school committee (that has felt like
carrying a 350 lb. gorilla on my back) I will know if I'm still chair
or even on the committee.
A great big shout out goes out to people who have to live with
seemingly insurmountable tragedies in a world where magic journals
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