As the outgoing President of the Youth Services Section of the NY Library Association, I had the honor of sitting at the head table for the 2014 YSS Empire State Award Luncheon. During the luncheon, the ESA winner, Jacqueline Woodson, was discussing some of the books she had read recently and could not stop gushing about Belzhar. (I didn’t realize at the time that she was also the featured blurb on the back of the book, but she had me sold.) I somehow managed to forget to add a request on the book when I returned to work, though. Fortunately, a colleague put Belzhar on the “Staff Picks” display last week and my friend [upon seeing it on display] asked whether I had read it yet. I said that I didn’t yet but certainly planned on it. She insisted that I take it home RIGHT THEN so that she would have someone with whom she could discuss the ending. Well, I picked it up for a “short” reading break yesterday afternoon, and I read more than half the book. I had to stop reading to eat dinner and to read bedtime stories with my kids, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Belzhar and had to finish reading it before I could go to sleep!
Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue was devastated by the death of her British exchange-student boyfriend, Reeve. Unable to function after her loss, Jam was sent away to a therapeutic boarding school in Vermont. The Wooden Barn wasn’t a psychiatric facility, though, but more of a buffer zone for teens who were too “fragile” for normal high schools. Upon arrival, Jam learned that she had been selected to be a student in the coveted Special Topics English class with Mrs. Quenell. Her roommate, DJ, found it grossly unfair since she even wrote a letter begging for admission to that class, though she admitted that she didn’t even know what made the class so special. No one ever did except for the select few who took the class each time. The students who took the class always formed such an incredible bond and gushed about how much the class changed their lives, and DJ wanted to be a part of that. When Jam and her classmates started their journal-writing assignment at the beginning of the semester, as a supplement to their in-depth study of the works of Sylvia Plath, none of them had the slightest clue what they were in for. But, soon, they would find themselves wrapped up in the mystery of a place they called Belzhar, which helped them explore their lives before whatever made them “fragile.”