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Cybils Reviews: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

I am knee deep in Cybils reading, and this weekend I read both Belzhar and Dark Metrpolis.

Belzar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam Gallahue finds herself at a special school for “emotionally fragile” teens. Last year, her beloved Reeve Maxfield died and she is having a hard time dealing with this loss. Her roommate is a young lady with food issues who is jealous when Jam is chosen to participate in a special topics English class. There are only 5 students and this year they are going to be exclusively studying the works of Sylvia Plath.

Each student receives a journal to write in and when they do, they find themselves in a place they call Belzhar where for a few brief moments they are at peace. But what happens when they get to the end of their journals?

We eventually learn the background stories of each of the five students as they build a relationship and learn to trust each other in this nontraditional class.

Although I had a hard time starting this book, I ended up really liking it in the end. Each of the 5 students deals with some form of variation on the concept of loss and grief. With this unique concept, Wolitzer highlights that even though people can be facing very different situations, they are entitled to the emotional weight of what they bear and the opportunity to go through their own healing process in their own way. In this world where we are constantly being told that so and so has it so much worse than us so you should just be happy and grateful, it’s a nice reminder that each person has their own life story and that story has meaning and power to them.

Jam meets a boy named Griffin in this group and, to me, he was the most compelling of the characters. I was very drawn into his story. Overall, the writing was strong, the characters were very real and relatable, and the story was engaging.

Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

Set in a dark, foreboding 1920/1930s-esque post war world, Dolamore introduces a world where magic is forbidden. After a brutal war plagued by food rationing and a near collapse of the city’s infrastructure, a group of teens come to learn just what it is that keeps their city running and why people keep seeming to disappear.

Thea’s mother was bound to her father in a binding spell, a magic that would unite them for life. So when Thea’s mother is told that her husband has passed away, she insists it can be true because she can still feel herself bound to him. Slowly, she becomes increasingly boundsick, which leaves Thea in a desperate attempt to discover the truth and help save her mother who appears to be slowly going insane.

Thea works at a place called the Telephone Club, and one day her best friend simply fails to show up. Nan wakes up in a bizarre factory with no memories and her task each day is to pull lever after lever. Where she is, and the how and why of it, are a truly fascinating tale.

Thea enlists the help of a silver haired boy named Freddy to help find out what happened to Nan. It turns out he has recently seen Nan and he is a very big player in everything that is happening.

Dark Metropolis is a wildly inventive story that weaves magic into a city in very interesting ways while addressing issues like class warfare and politics. Like Reboot by Amy Tintera, there is an interesting take on a very familiar monster story here – though I can’t tell you what because it would ruin all of your fun.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of this story is the character of Father Gruneman. He is involved in the revolution movement, a fact that at first surprises Thea. When Thea approaches the Father about his involvement, he replies to her that he can’t just stand at the pulpit and preach about faith and making the world a better place, but that he must go out and actively live his faith in a way that helps to bring about the good that he proclaims. So nestled in the middle of this very dark fantasy story is one of the strongest affirmations of faith I have found recently in YA literature.

Overall, I really loved how dark and macabre this story was. I loved Nan and her parts of the story. I thought some of the dialogue between Thea and Freddy was stilted and didn’t feel very authentic and I felt the ending was a little rushed, but other parts of the story were very atmospheric and engaging. For me, this could be a complete story, but it’s listed as being book #1 so it seems that there is more to come.

I definitely recommend both of these books.