Published by Dutton Juvenile on September 30th, 2014
Genres: paranormal, young adult
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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.
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.
You know, I had no expectations for this book at all. When I picked it up at BEA, I had no idea what it was, but I love stories like this, about depression and therapy and stays in mental health facilities. But for a book that I had ZERO expectations for, I still ended up disappointed.
Jamaica, or “Jam” is sent to The Wooden Barn because her depression has escalated and her parents don’t know what else they can do to help her. Her boyfriend, of 41 days, has died and she just can’t deal. And when she gets to The Wooden Barn, Jam is chosen to participate in a super exclusive English class – only 5 or 6 kids ever make it into the class, and they only read one writer all semester. Jam doesn’t really care though – at least, not until she sits down one evening to write her first entry in the journal Mrs Q handed out to the class. This red leather journal has a special power that transports the writer to another world wherein the traumatic event that landed them at The Wooden Barn hasn’t happened yet. So Jam gets to be with Reeve again and she’s ecstatic.
Over the course of the novel we get to hear each of the 5 students’ stories – what brought them to this therapeutic school. Their stories are ghastly and horrible and I can’t imagine living through anything these kids have lived through. However, I didn’t feel anything but the vaguest feelings of compassion for them because the way this story is told is just plain boring. Each kid’s story is told in one huge monologue, each in the same format, each with the same voice. They start by giving a little background information about themselves, while sitting in a circle around a candle at night. Then they dive into the sordid details. Each student sounds exactly the same, and they tell their stories with full dialog and everything. No one talks like that, and even if ONE person does, that certainly doesn’t mean that EVERYONE does, especially since they’re all different, come from different places geographically, and have different backgrounds.
But the stilted dialogue wasn’t the only problem I had with the way this book was written. I also had a really hard time connecting to Jam. She and Reeve had known each other for 41 days before he died and she spiraled into a depression for over a year after his death. She goes on and on within the book about how deeply they were in love but for fuck’s sake, they knew each other for 41 days! She even goes on to say that she’s HARDLY EVEN A PERSON WITHOUT REEVE. I mean, obviously this isn’t healthy – she’s in a school for emotionally disturbed kids after all – but this made it hard to take her seriously. I just couldn’t get behind her motivations.
The writing itself was repetitive and boring. There were hardly any descriptive passages at all so it was hard to get a handle on exactly what was going on and what it all looked like. The voice was distant and without character. The only thing that was really interesting was the journals’ power. But the worst thing about all this is that, while Jam was really fucking boring, there were other side characters with much more interesting stories, particularly Sierra, a ballet dancer from DC who’s younger brother was abducted.
Now, all this doesn’t really seem like enough to make me as angry as I am at this book, and I agree. What really pissed me off was the twist ending. I was totally on board with the story itself until I got to the last 75ish pages and the “big reveal” happened. I’ll tell you under the spoiler tag exactly what this twist was and how fucking angry it made me. View Spoiler »Throughout the book we’re told that Jam misses her dead boyfriend. He’s dead and his death was sudden and traumatic and she cannot get over it. Well. It turns out he’s not actually dead. And he’s not actually her boyfriend. What happened was this: she had a crush on this boy and he did not like her back or respect her at all. He would make out with her in secluded places and wouldn’t acknowledge her in public. Somehow, Jam convinced herself that they were IN LOVE and they were going to be together forever. She convinced herself that he was obsessed with her. She followed him around, basically stalked him, and took every move he made for a hidden, double meaning that showed he loved her. He didn’t. He clearly didn’t. And then she catches him making out with another girl and it shatters her. She “kills him in [her] mind” and he is dead to her. She then tells her family and everyone at The Wooden Barn that her boyfriend IS DEAD. This was unbelievable. First of all, the entire thing pissed me off because here are kids who have lost family members and have been paralyzed due to a drunk-driving mother and all kinds of crazy shit and here she is being rejected by a boy and equating it with that kind of pain. ALSO, none of this twist was at all hinted at throughout the book and I felt like it came out of nowhere. Too much foreshadowing is obviously a no-no, but NO foreshadowing is also just as bad, and lazy in my opinion. I feel like this book would have been much stronger if she really did lose a boyfriend. « Hide Spoiler
Sooo yeah. Maybe some other readers will like this. But this reader has seen enough twist endings that are actually successful to know when one is written for shock value and doesn’t really add anything to the story. The reveal at the end actually pissed me off, and if that’s not enough, the writing is repetitive and boring with stilted, ridiculous dialogue, and uses formulaic storytelling tropes.