Stephan Lee
September 28, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
Meg Wolitzer
Dutton Juvenile
Young Adult

We gave it an A-

If Meg Wolitzer were trying to dip into the YA world for an easy cash grab, she wouldn’t have chosen such a nerdy literary topic. The author of the acclaimed 2013 epic The Interestings sets her teen novel at the Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rustic Vermont meant for ”emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” high schoolers. When Jam Gallahue moves into her dorm, she’s still reeling from the death of her first love, Reeve. So she doesn’t much care that she’s been handpicked to enroll in an exclusive, mysterious lit seminar called Special Topics in English, which focuses on the works of poet-novelist Sylvia Plath. As Jam and her four classmates — who have also endured tragedies — delve into a semester-long journaling assignment, they’re transported to a hallucinatory alternate reality (dubbed ”Belzhar,” a nod to Plath’s classic The Bell Jar) in which their pre-trauma lives are restored. The allure of that false reality is overpowering, but the lesson lies in the courage to leave it behind. Wolitzer melds the power of confessional writing, Plath’s legacy, and the internal worlds of teenagers in this unusual gem of a novel. A-

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