cover image Belzhar


Meg Wolitzer, read by Jorjeana Marie. Listening Library, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-553-39596-9

After the death of her boyfriend, Jam Gallahue is sent to the Wooden Barn, a special high school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. She begins taking Special Topics in English, a class where she and four other students spend the semester studying one writer’s works: in this case, Sylvia Plath. Jam and her classmates are given journals to write in, and when they do, they are transported to a place they call Belzhar, a place that seems to exist out of time, where whatever tragedies happened to them never occurred. Narrator Marie is adept in presenting this powerful story. Jam’s English boyfriend’s voice is described as having a “scrape” to it. Marie nails that, but his accent comes and goes. This is a minor flaw in the narrator’s otherwise excellent performance. Marie gives Jam a youthful, buzzy edge; an elegant, elderly teacher has a creak to her voice that fits her age; and Jam’s little brother has a slightly squeaky tone. Marie’s choices are all true to the characters and are performed with seemingly no effort. Wolitzer’s book is a carefully crafted, heart-wrenching description of mental illness, and Marie underplays Jam’s affliction so that when the big reveal happens, listeners are taken by surprise. Ages 14–up. A Dutton hardcover. (Oct.)