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This novel is a wonderful blend of realism and fantasy. In today’s society, teenager readers are aware of cruelty and bullying and the depression that can result from this. They have an opportunity to relate to the characters, or wonder, “What would I do in that situation”. There is also a strong message here about actions affecting your future life.

Jam, short for Jamaica, is the narrator and central character of this story. She begins by describing her own trauma (her boyfriend dies) and how she has finished up at The “Wooden Barn”.  This is a boarding school for children who have suffered trauma or loss. When she arrives she feels so much more isolated and alone that she begs her parents to collect her and take her home. However they know that she needs help and all other attempts to bring her back to reality have failed.

Jam and four other teenagers have been selected for a special English class for the semester. Not that any of them care. Their teacher has chosen them carefully and no- one really knows what happens in that class. Their work begins with Mrs Quenell, explaining that the author they will study intensively is Sylvia Plath.

Mrs Quenell, explains the rules and tells them about herself. She is very old, she will retire at the end of the year, and she took a great deal of time to select this group of students. Each student is given a red journal. The pages are yellowing and the students are told the journal was picked up in an op shop.

All the students are expected to write in the journal which will be handed up at the end of the semester, but never read. It is here that the author introduces the fantasy element, for that journal will change everyone. You understand that the horrific traumas that the students have experienced will never leave them, but they can look forward to moving on in different ways.

The ideas in this book are quite extraordinary and very challenging. Many years ago there was a subject taught at college called Bibliotherapy. I believe this book would have been invaluable for practitioners then, and probably Mrs Quenell used Sylvia Plath in a similar way for her students.

It reinforces the message that a stupid action such as drink driving can radically alter your life and those loved ones around you.  Loved this book!

Author Meg Wolitzer
Publisher Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781471123764