Young adult books are often inaccurately categorized as a genre when really, YA is just a marketing tool that indicates the general age of its intended audience. This means the range and depth of these books is every bit as widely varied as general fiction. Like any other category sometimes you get a great read and sometimes it falls short of your expectations. I’m afraid our last Forever Young Adult book club selection ended up being the latter.
I had high hopes for Meg Wolizter’s Belzhar, a book that takes much of its inspiration from Sylvia Plath, mixes in a few traumatized teens, and adds a healthy dose of fantasy to the recipe. The blurbs on the cover raved about its powerful messages promoting literacy and writing and extolled the depth and emotional range of the characters. (Word to the wise, don’t trust the blurbs. Read the first chapter, but never trust the blurbs.)
I’m sad to say Belzhar ended up being a very superficial read. I couldn’t emotionally connect with the story or its characters, and it seemed that the author had little personal experience with the subject matter. The misfit teens all housed in a facility for traumatized children were all too quick to trust each other with their deepest darkest secrets and some of their “traumas” were downright laughable. One of the characters was an accidental goat murderer. I kid you not -- no pun intended.
With that being said, there was a pretty fantastic twist toward the end of the book. The plot device made perfect sense in the context of the story, however it once again fell short as the characters responded to it in an unrealistically ideal way. So, if you were attracted to Belzhar like we were and are interested in a story that has themes of adolescent emotional and mental challenges, we recommend you pick up The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness or Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman instead.