“Wolitzer has imagined a world for young readers that celebrates the sacred, transcendent power of reading and writing.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A prep school tale with a supernatural-romance touch, from genius adult novelist Meg Wolitzer.” —Glamour
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.
1. How did you feel about the novel’s portrayal of mental illness? Do you think that Jam should have been sent to The Wooden Barn? Why or why not?
2. Consider the significance of the title, Belzhar, and the Special Topics in English class’s focus for the semester. Why do you think the author chose to allude to and discuss the works of Sylvia Plath? How does that connection contribute to the novel?
3. Toward the end of the novel, Jam declares that “words matter.” Discuss how this theme affects the entire story.
4. The Wooden Barn is a school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent students.” How does the school strive to help these students? Do you feel that these students are able to recover, in some way, from their grief?
5. Jam’s life changes throughout Mrs. Quenell’s Special Topics in English class. How did you feel about Mrs. Quenell in the novel? Has a teacher or class changed your life in a similar way?