Friday, June 12, 2015

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

by Alida Hanson

Jam's first boyfriend dies, sending her into an emotional tailspin. Her parents enroll her in a therapeutic boarding school (no, it's not called Belzhar) to stabilize. She is chosen to be in the legendary English: Special Topics class where they read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and complete a nightly journaling assignment.

The students, each victims of trauma that led them to the school, start to form relationships based on experiences they have during journaling. I won't spoil it, but plot twists make Belzhar a satisfying read.

Meg Wolitzer is a pro. She knows how to write a compelling, artful story. This is hypercritical, but it was a tad too polished for me--I felt manipulated. I read The Interestings this year and felt the same way--like I was in the hands of a master who knows how to anticipate what her audience wants and gives it to them. I haven't gotten any feedback from students yet on this one. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

by Alida Hanson

Travis enlisted in the Marines right after graduation and is serving in Afghanistan. His ex-football pro father is a jerk. His little brother is on a perpetual free ride. His mother frantically tries to keep everything together. And his "girlfriend" just broke up with him--for his little brother. Basically almost everyone in his "home" life is not emotionally available to him--or anyone else. He can't depend on them like his comrades in Afghanistan.

Now he's home on leave in Ft. Meyers, FL, for a few weeks to "pull himself together" as his superior advises--because he watched his best friend get killed in Afghanistan. Good luck with that, Travis!

But the amazing thing is, Travis does it. He lets go of hurtful people and accepts healthy people into his life. There is no magically beautiful ending to this story, but you get the sense that Travis is making the right choices and listening to the right people. The Florida setting is evocative and a major part of the book. The romance between Travis and Harper is healing and realistic.