Belzhar

Hi everyone! February is slowly but surely drawing to a close, and I am just waiting for it to be March. Or, more accurately, for it to be spring. Green leaves! Longer days! Sunshine! Warmth.

>ahem<

Anyway, as you can probably see, the book of the day is Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer, which I have been looking forward to reading for quite some time (not least of all because of that cool cover).

Belzhar tells the story of Jam Gallahue, a girl who, for a while, had a pretty good life. She had friends, did fairly well in school, etc. But then her boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield, dies. And Jam falls apart.

At a loss as to what to do, Jam’s parents finally send her to the Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. There, Jam is placed in a class called Special Topics in English, where she is one of only five students and they read only one writer for the whole semester. This semester, that writer is Sylvia Plath. As the students delve deeper into Plath’s writing, and begin keeping journals as part of the class, they’re transported to a world where each of them can regain what they have lost. They decide to call this world “Belzhar.” Only, what happens when the journals fill up?

There are so many good things about Belzhar. The characters were unique and compelling, and I especially loved the other kids in Jam’s class, like Marc and Casey. The plot was interesting, and the writing is great. I really liked how real Wolitzer made Jam’s feelings, from her love for Reeve to her grief after his death. This book gets intense, but Wolitzer manages that very well, and I was so invested in what was going on.

And then there was the plot twist.

Usually, I’m a pretty big fan of plot twists–I love when a book just completely blindsides you and smacks you with something you never saw coming, something that changes everything and makes the book even better. And while I was certainly blindsided by the plot twist in Belzhar, I was mostly left asking one question: “Why???”

I liked Belzhar so much up until that point, but after that one part, I just couldn’t like it in the same way, nor could I like Jam. The frustrating thing is that the plot twist felt so needless, and I couldn’t understand why it was there. It turned everything completely on its head, but the book was excellent without that. Jam’s struggles were immediately much less compelling, as was her character. I honestly thought I must have read something wrong, because it didn’t make any sense to me.

For a good part of the book, Belzhar is excellent. The characters are real, the plot is good, and I enjoyed the way Wolitzer wove Sylvia Plath’s writing into her characters’ lives. I feel like I can’t classify the book as either good or bad, because it’s almost like two separate stories in one–one of which I loved, one of which frustrated me to absolutely no end.

For now, though, rather than agonize over my severely mixed feelings, I think I’m going to get a cup of cocoa and mess around on the Internet. Because why not?

Stay warm everybody!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me.” –Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

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Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.

Happy Galentine’s Day!: My Favorite Female Characters

Hi everyone! So, until about half an hour ago, I had no idea what Galentine’s Day was. All I knew was that it happens to be today, February 13th, and I saw it mentioned on Twitter a few times. But, as this article has so helpfully told me, Galentine’s Day is a day for celebrating women. Or, as the article says, ladies celebrating ladies. It was first mentioned on an episode of Parks and Recreation, and while I admittedly haven’t seen very much of the show (I’m so sorry please don’t hit me), I thought the idea sounded pretty cool. And then that made me want to write about some of the favorite lady characters I’ve read about. The only thing is that I have to head to bed soon so if this is slightly less coherent then usual, you have my sincerest apologies. Okay cool female characters go.

Hermione1. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowing

Hermione was the first character that popped into my head when I was thinking about this post, and there are many, many reasons why. Hermione is so purely awesome–she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s kind. But she’s also very human and flawed. She’s amazingly good at magic, and I wish I was half as hardworking as she is, because then I would be so much better at not procrastinating on, oh, everything. We all know Harry and Ron would be totally lost without her. Plus, she’s a total bookworm, so of course I relate to her on a deeply personal level.

2. Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora PierceAlanna

If there is one book character that makes me want to bow down and gush about how cool I think she is, it’s probably Alanna of Trebond. Alanna is without a doubt one of the most awesome characters I’ve read about–she disguises herself as boy for years as she trains to be a knight of the realm in her home of Tortall. Of course, this isn’t easy, especially when she finds herself making a very, very powerful enemy. I think what I love most about Alanna is how fiery and tough she is. She is completely herself (despite the whole disguising herself as a boy thing), and she’s also feminist in a way that makes my heart do a tap dance of joy. If you have yet to read the Song of the Lioness series, for the love of God, please do. Alanna is fantastic. And I am endlessly jealous of the fact that she can both swordfight and do magic.

Lizzie Bright3. Lizzie Bright Griffin from Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy a long time ago, and I really need to pick it up again, but Lizzie Bright Griffin had a lot to do with why I loved it so much. She’s smart and clever and not afraid to speak her mind, and she changes the life of Turner Buckminster in a myriad of ways. She’s brave, too, even in the face of the prejudice and racism she faces from the white people near where she lives. She truly is bright, in every sense of the word. Just please don’t make me talk me talk about the ending because tears. There will be tears everywhere. (Also, this book is both a Newbery and a Printz Honor, which I think is pretty cool.)

Lizzy Bennet4. Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

Oh, Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen referred to her as “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print,” and I don’t blame her in the least. We’re reading Pride and Prejudice for my English class right now, and I love being able to rediscover how much I adore Lizzy’s character. She’s intelligent and witty and kind, while also being flawed. She’s very human, and so, so much fun to read about. I think she’s definitely my favorite character in the book, with Darcy coming in as a close second.

Hazel5. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

>sobs violently into pillow<

Ahem. Anyway.

Hazel is one of my favorite things about The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel has cancer, yes, but that is by no means all there is to her character. I love her voice in the novel, the way she describes things and the things she says. I love that she says things like, “Suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” She’s smart and nerdy and honest, and has a bit of a smart mouth, which means I’m pretty much guaranteed to like her. Also, she has such a love of books, and I am a sucker for characters who love books. (Also people who love books.) (Also she loves poetry, so extra points.)

Phillis6. Phillis Wheatley from Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons by Ann Rinaldi

Ann Rinaldi’s books are so ridiculously good, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is one of her best. It covers years of Phillis Wheatley’s life, from childhood to adulthood, and I loved being able to read about her character. Phillis is tough and smart, not to mention kind and complex. She adores writing, and I loved reading about her discovery of it, of her writing the poems that people still read today. I couldn’t put this book down, and part of me (or all of me) wishes there was a sequel could I keep reading about Phillis forever.

Amelia7. Amelia McBride from the Amelia Rules! series

The Amelia McBride comics are some of my favorites in pretty much ever. I remember devouring these books when I was in elementary school, and they can still suck me in. Amelia is the glowing main character and narrator, and I loved reading about her adventures with her friends, superhero escapades and all. She’s spunky and clever, and doesn’t always know when to keep her mouth shut, which somehow makes her even more likable. The Amelia Rules! books are some of my favorite graphic novels of all time, and a lot of that is due to Amelia herself. Not to mention that her Aunt Tanner is absolutely awesome.

Alexandra Bergson8. Alexandra Bergson from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Alexandra is arguably one of the coolest characters in fiction ever. She grows up on the prairies of Nebraska, and almost single-handedly turns their family’s plot of land into a prosperous farm, with help from her brothers and friends. Alexandra is incredibly intelligent and smart, and I wish I had some of the persistence and energy that she does. Then again, thank god I don’t live on the prairie, because I wouldn’t survive a day.

Little Women9. Beth and Jo March from Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Believe it or not, I actually hadn’t read Little Women until just this past Christmas, >ducks to avoid thrown tomatoes<, but I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading about all the March sisters, but Beth and Jo are without a doubt my favorites. Jo is endlessly spirited and clever, and Beth is the kind of character I want to hug for ages and then make cookies for. I loved Jo’s spunkiness, as well as reading about her writing, and I wish I could be even half as sweet as Beth is. There’s a reason I was sitting up in bed weeping in the middle of the night when I got to you-know-what. They may just be my favorite characters in the entire book. (Also, it thrills me to no end that Katharine Hepburn plays Jo in the movie adaptation. It seems so fitting.)

Dealing with Dragons10. Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

This was one of my favorite fantasy series as a kid, and it still is. Cimorene is a princess, sure, but she doesn’t exactly want to be, nor does she want to get married. So, of course, she runs away and lives with a dragon. And that’s just the beginning. Cimorene is adventurous and smart and wry in a way that I love, and her friendship with the dragon, Kazul, is actually one of my favorites in the whole series. I have half a mind to go back and read about Cimorene all over again. Plus, she makes an excellent cherry jubilee.

There are many, many other characters I could think of to add to this list, but I’m afraid that’s all for now. Also, I should really be getting to bed. So Happy Galentine’s Day to all, and to all a good night!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

P.S. Yes, I know that quote is magnificently out of season. Please don’t judge me. I miss our Christmas tree.

P.P.S. Also Flavia de Luce from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. A precocious 11 year old chemist who solves mysteries and has a specialty in poisons–what more could you want?