24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: February 2015

Abby Reads: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2014, 264 pages
YA Fantasy

I had heard about Belzhar a while back — it was a pretty big deal because there was speculation that it was a modern-day The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath), which I read January of my freshman year of college (great book — do not recommend IMG_3035reading during seasonal affective disorder season, you feel?). While The Bell Jar plays a role in Belzhar, it pretty easily could have been any other major work of literature featuring themes of depression. Belzhar follows Jamaica “Jam” in her first semester at a school for teens experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties. Many students are there as a result of specific traumas. Jam, for instance, is dealing with the loss of her boyfriend. A select group of students are registered for a Special Topics English class, in which they are given a journal to write in which transports them to a sort-of space where the students can live as if their traumas never happened — but nothing gold can stay, as they say.

Belzhar had a lot of potential that simply wasn’t reached. Wolitzer touched on some really great material, but never quite grasped it fully in the big picture of the novel. Plot-wise, the story moved a bit slowly, particularly at the beginning. Meanwhile, the end moved too quickly and packed in too many events. Wolitzer brings up interesting sub-plots, but generally left them underdeveloped and only vaguely resolved. I will say, like at least a few of the readers on Goodreads, that I did not see the big twist at the end coming and was pleasantly surprised how off-guard I was caught. This twist is arguably a sort-of parallel to The Bell Jar, which I appreciated.

I found most of the characters to be really interesting and incredibly unique for the kind of fiction I typically read. Jam, our first-person narrator, mentioned a few times how she was “like other girls” and had straight hair “like other girls.” I very rarely see books about the Aeropostale/Abercrombie teen stereotype. Instead, I more frequently see the, “I’m not like other girls, look at my blue hair and my non-comformist attitude. I’m so different. Ugh.” Ugh, indeed. Feminist rants aside, I’m frankly tired of those characters, so Jam was a welcome change. The rest of Belzhar‘s cast was equally unique – I was particularly intrigued by Griffin and Sierra, though other frequently-occurring characters were plenty-rounded (DJ! Marc! Casey!) as well.

I didn’t see anything particularly remarkable about Wolitzer’s writing style. On occasion, it border-lined on uninteresting and even poorly-written sentences, but for the most part it was readable.  There were a few instances of Wolitzer inserting SAT words, as if she was trying to get readers to learn new things. While that’s an honorable mission, I felt those words were out-of-character for Jam, so it just became distracting more than anything else.

Overall, Belzhar is a quick read, not too bad, but definitely does not live up to its potential. (Also, that cover? Gorgeous.)

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Gallery Books, 1999, 213 pages
YA Realistic Fiction

Charlie is starting high school. Charlie has a lot of doubts. Charlie is about to learn a lot about himself and the world. With the help of an English teacher, Charlie decides it’s time to reinvent himself as someone who “participates” as opposed to someone who observes. The first step is to make some friends. Writing to an unnamed “friend,” Charlie details the sequence of his growth and the lives of the people around him.

Well, finally. I know, I know, it took me far too long to get around to reading this one. But it’s happened at last! I’ll say up front that I wasn’t quite as enchanted by it as everyone else I seem to know and their grandmother, but that’s okay. I agree that IMG_2988it’s a pretty important book — sure, literature, even — and not a bad read. If you know anything about Perks at all, you probably know it deals with a lot of heavy material. As someone who hasn’t been subjected to most of these heavy and unfortunate events, I’ll venture to say that I feel Chbosky dealt with them with sensitivity and honesty, which can be a difficult balance to strike. (I’ll emphasize again, though, that I’ve never suffered from the more severe things that occur in the book and, while I saw Chbosky’s handling as appropriate, others may find it insensitive or triggering which is totally valid.)

Chbosky has also clearly mastered Charlie’s voice and its evolution within Perks. While I can’t say that I’m familiar with any of other Chbosky-material, it seems to me Charlie has a very distinct and deliberate voice. I got the sense that Chbosky may always use this voice in other writing — that is, the voice is very much his and while it’s strong, unique, and evident within the text, it makes him out to be a sort-of one-trick-pony. But, being unfamiliar with his screenplays and such, I can’t say that for certain. And I digress — this review is about Perks, not Chbosky’s entire body of work.

There are three particular points that I’m interested in discussing here, but given that it would involve spoilers, I’ll refrain. Instead, if you’ve read the book, I’ll just encourage you to think about Bill (what did you expect of his relationship with Charlie? I was completely surprised by his motives), the recipient of Charlie’s letters (does identity matter?), and Charlie’s main trauma (nothing in particular, and I understand why Chbosky included it the way he did, although it didn’t fit in with the way I understood the story was “working”). Obviously Perks gives readers a lot to think about.

And it’s partly that which has made people so angry about it. In their handy list of frequently challenged books, the ALA has reported Perks as being challenged with dizzying frequency over the years. This comes as no surprise — the book, intended for and marketed a young adult audience, contains anything and everything various groups might find offensive or distasteful (this is not to say I agree with any of them): drugs, sex, rape, incest, homosexuality, feminism, underage drinking, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Shall I go on? I’m not one for censorship, though from a literary perspective, I thought Chbosky put more on his plate than he could handle. While each of these topics are touched on (and some repeatedly), the sheer volume of heavy topics makes it difficult to digest any one of them within the context of the book. And with Charlie’s sometimes-vague prose, it’s sometimes hard to even know what, actually, the issue is. None of these issues are more or less valid than any of the others, but by cramming them all into such a small book, their treatment is severely diminished.

A lot of people have, in my memory, compared Perks to The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. I can see the similarities and the influence, but the books have a very different atmosphere. Where Holden Caulfield of Catcher is cynical, Charlie is curious and hopeful. This makes all the difference.

Generally not a bad read, but not one to rush through — read, digest, repeat.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender
Disney-Hyperion, 2010, 352 pages
YA Horror/Mystery

Alexis’ little sister is acting weird. She’s withholding information, obsessing over a school project, and generally being a brat. Meanwhile, Alexis is dealing with the usual trials of high school: boys, popularity, and general adolescent discontent. At least she’s got Megan and their growing friendship. But will Alexis’ equally growing knowledge about her sister challenge that friendship?

Alexis is a caricature of every I’m-so-goth-and-hate-cheerleaders character I’ve ever read. She consistently complains about every aspect of her life, making it incredibly difficult to find anything likable about her and thus care about her story. The only thing in life she does seem to like is photography, which is frequently interrupted or damaged by her sister. Meanwhile, she struggles with her mother’s ambition, her father’s desire for a social life, and her sister’s little-sister-ness. She dislikes people based only on what they are, rather than who they are. And while she grows and finds a friend in Megan, this lesson does not seem to infect other people in her life. Her personality is uncomplicated and therefore uninteresting, while the remaining characters are similarly underdeveloped.

Overall, Bad Girls Don’t Die had an intricate plot involving too many dead characters to keep track. Partly because of the complicated structure and history of the novel, the horror of passages were lost. None of the scenes were truly scary, leaving the story with one less element to increase its value.

Alender’s writing style is generally unremarkable, though not poor. The occasional phrase stood out as something unique and beautiful. In general, the sentence structure, vocabulary choices, and voice was nothing spectacular.

Bad Girls Don’t Die seems to tie up nicely, but is followed by a sequel, From Bad to Cursed.

💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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