Double Dose of Grief

The narrator of Meg Wolitzer’s novel Belzhar is a fifteen-year-old who has had a major emotional breakdown. Although Jam Gallahue and Reeve Maxfield knew each other for only 41 days, Jam is devastated after losing her first love. Jam sinks into a deep depression. Her parents decide to send her to The Wooden Barn, a private boarding school in rural Vermont known for treating depression and other mental issues. Mrs. Quennell, an English teacher at the school, chooses Jam and four other students to participate in her Special Topics English class. In addition to reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the students are required to write in an antique journal twice a week. Through the journaling, the students encounter something unexpected that creates a strong bond amongst the group and activates the healing process for each individual. Wolitzer’s message is ‘words matter’; literature can be emotionally therapeutic. Unfortunately, the message is not cleverly weaved into the story so it sounds contrived and preachy. The characters are not very well developed and the ending is a little too neatly wrapped. Despite all that, the plight of each character draws the readers in this fast-paced story.

Cadence Sinclair, a teen from an affluent family, is the narrator of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Cady and her disturbingly dysfunctional family meet at a private island each summer where she and her cousins have grown up together. Their vacations on the island are carefree; except Cady cannot remember anything from the summer she was fifteen. One mystery changes all and nothing can ever be the same. The story is such that disclosing more spoils the fun of reading this book. The prose is rife with imagery, the plot is clever and some of the characters, often nasty, are painfully believable. There are allusions to King Lear and fairy tale segments retold and imagined by Cady; her attempt to face truths she is not supposed to notice or mention. This incisive story has many layers and as each layer unravels, there, in the center, is a mesmerizing tale of privilege, love and lies.

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