New York Times bestselling author, Meg Wolitzer, recently admitted to a room full of teachers at Penguin Random House’s Annual Author Event for Educators, “I don’t think so much ‘write what you know’ as ‘write what obsesses you’ ” —immediately eliciting nods and knowing smiles all around. What obsesses you?
For Wolitzer, it’s clear that books light the fire. She went on to acknowledge that others’ powerful books are often central to her own books. For example, in BELZHAR, she helps readers and listeners explore what teenager Jam Gallahue experiences when she’s introduced to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and encouraged by her English teacher to write in a journal.
In order to try and help her cope with an especially difficult period in her life, Jam has been sent by her parents to The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont. Jam and her fellow Special Topics in English classmates fall into “Belzhar” when writing about their feelings, a realm inspired by The Bell Jar, where the untainted past is restored. As Wolitzer explained in a letter to advanced readers, BELZHAR “look[s] closely at a time of life that is sometimes glowing, thrilling, and informed by drama, but is certainly not always golden.” She went on to say, “I loved writing in the voice of Jam Gallahue, who feels that, since tragically losing her boyfriend, she’s lost everything—but who, truly, is just beginning to know what it’s like to live.” And thanks to this phenomenal new book, Wolitzer has given us all something new to obsess over. As well as something special to share with YA readers and listeners…RAVE AUDIO REVIEWS:
“BELZHAR was AMAZING!!!! That audio really did pull me right into the story. Those characters were with me when I wasn’t listening and I just had to get back to it every chance I got to know what was going on with their lives!”—Janet Weber, Youth Services Librarian, Tigard Public Library
“In a word? Wow. [Narrator Jorjeana] Marie (pictured left) gave her voice a believable teen quality, and her tempo and feel for the story drew me in and held me. In addition, her characterizations, although not overdone, were consistent and clear. Don’t hesitate to give the audio a try.“— Beth Fish Reads
“As narrator, Jorjeana Marie renders Jam’s haunting vulnerability, and as her past slowly unfolds, listeners will feel themselves in the role of confidant…a touching and intimate experience.”—AudioFileADDITIONAL PRAISE FOR BELZHAR, including 3 starred reviews:
★ “A riveting exploration of the human psyche…Wolitzer’s teenage characters are invigorated, flawed, emotionally real and intensely interesting. Even as readers fold back the layers of the story and discover unexpected truths and tragedies, the plot maintains an integrity that has come to be hallmark of Wolitzer’s novels.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
★ “A smart and engrossing tale of trauma, trust, and triumph.”—School Library Journal, starred review
★ “A strong, original book…Acclaimed author Wolitzer writes crisply.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review and a PW Best Book of 2014
“Wolitzer has imagined a world for young readers that celebrates the sacred, transcendent power of reading and writing. As Jam proclaims near the end of BELZHAR: Words matter.“—New York Times
After listening to BELZHAR, young listeners may be interested in learning more about the author, Sylvia Plath, whose novel and life story have a powerful impact on Jam. We suggest recommending these audios for further listening:
Poetry written and read by Sylvia Plath YOUR OWN, SYLVIA by Stephanie Hemphill
Read by multiple readers including Paul Boehmer, Cassandra Campbell, Rosalyn Landor, Simon Vance, and more
“The original poems are delivered with excellent pacing, showing off their well-made rhythms and allowing listeners time to savor the words.”—Booklist
Author/Narrator love on Twitter:
@jorjeanamarie My pleasure. I knew you would do a great job. So thank you too.
— Meg Wolitzer (@MegWolitzer) November 6, 2014