Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: Shatter Me

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: YA, Science Fiction (Dystopian), Romance

Four walls of an asylum and a small notebook make up Juliette Ferrars' entire world until the day a mysterious boy enters her cell. His name is Adam Kent, and he doesn't seem to remember Juliette--but she remembers him. They went to school together, back when the world was normal: before the food shortages and the nuclear bombs and the iron fist rule of The Reestablishment.

Juliette never fit into the normal world. A touch from her can cause a person to convulse in pain; if she holds on too long, they die. Now Warner, a young but ruthless leader, wants to mold her into a weapon for The Reestablishment. He'll use anything in his power to bend her to his will--including her budding feelings for Adam. It seems Juliette will only ever cause pain to those closest to her. Then Adam tells her a secret that will change everything...


My friend Rita, who writes YA fantasy romances, ardently recommended this book to me. My reaction wasn't quite as passionate. I liked it okay. And I could see it's appeal. The book is beautifully written in a unique style that milks emotion out of every situation--good for romance readers. But the fantasy elements are unoriginal, the setting is vague, and the plot is thin.

Let's start with the good stuff.

Tahereh Mafi writes in a way I haven't seen before, crossing out lines that are too real, too raw, or too embarrassing, like one would do in a journal. But Juliette isn't writing in a journal, though it appears that way at first. This is happening in real time, and the crossed out words represents her self-editing mind.

     "What are you writing?" Cellmate speaks again.

     These words are vomit.

     This shaky pen is my esophagus.

     This sheet of paper is my porcelain bowl.

     "Why won't you answer me?" He's too close too close too close.

     No one is ever close enough.

I can relate to this. I'm always trying to stomp out weird thoughts that pop into my head. It gives me, the reader, a close connection to Juliette. I'm aware of even her subconscious thoughts. At the same time, Tahereh Mafi's blend of metaphor and hyperbole creates an atmosphere of heightened emotion. Every tiny action is supercharged with meaning.

     There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched into my heart.

     His eyes are 2 buckets of rainwater: deep, fresh, clear.

     I step backwards and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us.
How poetic
This unique style caught my interest from the start and kept me reading.

It had to, because for the first 50 pages, nothing happened. Juliette sat in her cell with Adam, feeling strongly, but hardly moving or speaking at all. Even after she gets out of the mental institution, she ends up locked with a boy again, for 150 pages this time.

Thank goodness that this boy is Warner, the green-eyed, gorgeous, 19-year-old psychopathic murderer who is obsessed with power, obsessed with Juliette, and obsessed with getting Juliette to accept her power. When I realized that Warner saw Juliette as more than a weapon--that he was actually sort of in love with her--then I began to flip pages quite quickly.

     "Don't you dare hate me so quickly," [Warner] continues. "You might find yourself enjoying this situation a lot more than you anticipated. Lucky for you, I'm willing to be patient." He grins. Leans back. "Though it certainly doesn't hurt that you're so alarmingly beautiful."

I know I'm not supposed to like Warner. Juliette hates him, is absolutely appalled by everything he does, calls him a monster to his face. And yet I sensed a troubled past and a pitiful desperation oozing from Warner's blackened soul. He needs so badly for Juliette to choose him, and this need makes him vulnerable.

At least I'm not the only one!
Was I crazy? Was this some residue of my adolescent longing for the bad boy? Rita assured me that I was, in fact, an astute reader, and that Warner gets a ton more development in the upcoming books. I'm glad. I'd hate to think I was falling for a creepy stalker for no reason.

I mentioned before that Tahereh Mafi makes good use of figurative language, and while this stirs the blood, it makes it very difficult to see what's going on around the characters. In no place is this more apparent than in the setting. I tried and tried to get a clear idea of the landscape, but the vague words left me with an impressionistic blur.

     The general population has been distributed across what's left of the country. Industrial buildings form the spine of the landscape: tall, rectangular metal boxes stuffed full of machinery. Machinery intended to strengthen the army, to strengthen The Reestablishment, to destroy mass quantities of human civilization.

     Carbon/ Tar/ Steel

     Gray/ Black/ Silver

This is what I know about the society Juliette inhabits. Ten years ago, it was pretty much our world. Then the atmosphere became poisonous, the earth stopped providing food, starvation broke out, and The Reestablishment came to power. Since The Reestablishment is evil, they set off nuclear bombs and created orphans and hoarded all the goodies for themselves. For some reason, there aren't any cars left--except when required by the plot.

Juliette's World
Basically, a generic Dystopia. You might as well ignore the setting altogether.

Shatter Me had hints of X-Men right from the start. It's hard not to compare Juliette to Rogue. Initially, I shrugged it off as coincidence and tried to put that comparison out of my mind. But the ending threw all subtlety out the window. It's X-men + YA Dystopia + Romance. The climax had a good deal of action and drama, but by the end of the book, I felt a little underwhelmed.

Rita tells me that the third book is the best of the bunch, that it ties everything up wonderfully. I'm not entirely sure I'll get to reading the other two books, though. Maybe if I get them for Christmas...

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