Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Jam’s attendance at The Wooden Barn School for “fragile” people is a last resort for her parents. They want their daughter back. Grief and depression have taken over her life. In Special Topics English class she receives a red leather journal that transports her to a world where she can be happy. She also meets and becomes friends with the four other class members, who each have their own “happy places” in the red journals. Along the way the back stories of each student are revealed, what brought them to The Wooden Barn, and rendered them so fragile.
As a former English teacher, I must say I had an emotional reaction to the characters engagement with the literature they were reading. (It took me to my own “happy place.”) Journal writing is a great way to work out the mess in our heads. Jam says “Everyone is paying close attention…. We’re talking about the novel right? But maybe we’re not. We’re talking about ourselves. And I guess that’s what can start to happen when you talk about a good book.” (loc 563) Jam and her new friends grow and learn to deal with life as the semester goes on in a gratifying way. I thought I had the tragedies all figured out about halfway through, but I’m glad to say I really didn’t. I know better than to trust an unreliable narrator, but was swept along anyway.