Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, PNR, Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: October 15 2011
Hardcover: 342 pages
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices, Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.
Stand alone or series: First in the Shatter Me trilogy.
How did we get this book: Review copies from the publisher at BEA
Why did we read this book: A novel that promised to be the child of Hunger Games and X-Men and which got raving reviews everywhere since BEA? Yes, please. How could we say no to that?
Shatter Me is Tahereh Mafi ‘s debut, a dystopian YA novel, marketed as a mixture of Hunger Games and X-Men. Although I am not really a huge fan of dystopians (at least not of this recent YA batch, I haven’t been particularly lucky with my choices) , I am a huge fan of X-men and this connection was enough to make me pick it up. That and the raving reviews this book has garnered for the past few months all over the blogsphere, some of them by trusted reviewers.
It is the near future, the world has collapsed Juliette has been in solitary confinement at a mental asylum for 264 days. Her touch is lethal and a few years ago, she murdered someone by accident and she has been a prisoner ever since. Her keepers are The Reestablishment, the ones who are in control of this brave new world, in charge of saving humanity from the brink of starvation and death. The problem is: more than to lock her away for good, the Reestablishment might have other ideas on how to use Juliette as a weapon of torture.
Shatter Me is out tomorrow and I believe reactions to this book will be extremely polarised and the main reason for this will be the prose. Tahereh Mafi’s writing is very descriptive, relying a lot on metaphors and imagery and the strike-through tool. For some, this will be unique and beautiful. To others like me, it will come across as excessive and irritating. Words can be very powerful and I feel this was the idea behind the prose but there is a difference between power and force – the writing to me, proved to be forceful instead of potent.
At first, the use of strike-through and metaphors seem natural as a reflection of Juliette’s unstable state of mind and although the usage of strike-through words diminished as the story progressed ( as a clear result of the change in Juliette’s mental health), the metaphors kept going strong. The novel overflows with them. And in many cases, the metaphors didn’t even make sense. A few examples are in order:
I’m wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face
I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage
I blink and bottle my breaths
Not to mention a lot of exaggeration:
Hundreds of thousands of seconds pass and I can’t stop dying
(this is a quote from a mere conversation Juliette is having and not say, a quote from a fight scene or a torture scene)
I gasp so loud I’ve swallowed the entire room in one breath
and so on and so froth. I am sure Thea will have more examples.
The point is: I had a very strong, negative reaction to the writing and that definitely coloured my overall reaction to the book. But my problems with the novel went far beyond that. The story has definitely a good, strong premise especially when it came to Juliette. As a character on the brink of being driven insane by loneliness and starvation for human touch, she had a lot of potential. I do feel though this potential was wasted away by the need to constantly reaffirm Juliette”s goodness of heart. Her entire life she has allowed people to use her, to walk all over her and she has an undying love for human beings. I understand that part of it comes from her being insecure and lonely, but the hammering down of Juliette’s inner goodness is such that it goes beyond making her heroic and tips her over complete martyrdom. In terms of her powers, it is easy to see where the comparisons with X-Men stem from: she reminds me a lot of Rogue. However, in terms of characterisation, she is much more to the Rogue from the movies than the original Rogue from the comics. That is totally not a good thing, in case you were wondering as Movie-Rogue was a whinny, tearful thing whereas Comic-Rogue is complex and awesome.
Moving on to other elements of the novel, there are two more aspects to be discussed. First of all, the romance. The romance is a very strong element of the novel, at some points completely taking over from everything else. I won’t dwell: suffice it to say that he romance is not the insta-love I despise but is my second least favourite trope, the “I have always loved you even though I never spoke a word to you” trope, which is equally irritating because it also throws away any need for developing a love story. Just like the insta-love, the always-love is inexplicably there. Not to mention how this seems to be latest YA book in which protagonists have a difficult time getting around to simply kissing. Eventually Juliette and Adam do get hot and heavy but their first kiss takes forever to happen even though they touch foreheads, kiss necks, kiss cheeks, kiss ears but without managing to properly kiss because apparently the mouth is MILES AWAY FROM THE CHEEK/NECK/FOREHEAD. I have a tendency to find this hilarious. And that is most certainly not a good thing either.
Which brings me to my last point: the dystopian elements. It is a bit hard to believe that it has taken a mere three years for the Reestablishment to take over the entire world and rule it so completely. It is even harder to take these people seriously and fear them when one of their biggest leaders – in charge of an entire complex – is a 19 year-old psycho with delusions of grandeur and mommy issues. Warner is the villain of this piece and although he is the most interesting and complex character of the bunch, his excuse for wanting to use Juliette’s power as a weapon of torture is flimsy at best, because seriously what is the range of her power? One person at a time, and only if she is touching them. Seems like a bit short-sighted plan from someone who is supposedly extremely smart and ambitious.
Despite a competent, claustrophobic start and a promising ending, the aforementioned problematic aspects were far too strong for me to really enjoy this book at all.
I was extremely excited to read Shatter Me, having listened to the charming Tahereh Mafi speak at Comic Con this year, and having read a number of stellar reviews for this debut, I was thrilled to finally dive into this highly anticipated book.
Unfortunately, I have to agree with Ana. I could not engage with the writing style of the book, riddled with nonsensical metaphors as it is, I could not find any foothold with main characters Juliette or Adam, and I could never buy the dystopia.
The most glaring, off-putting thing about this book is the writing style, and as Ana points out, the most egregious of these problems is that of the distracting metaphor. There are a number of nonsensical phrasings, such as:
My eyes break open. Two shattered windows filling my mouth with glass.
His lips soften into a smile that cracks apart my spine.
They filled our world with weapons aimed at our foreheads and smiled as they shot sixteen candles right through our future.
Warner thinks Adam is a cardboard cutout of vanilla regurgitations.
In these instances the metaphors actually make no sense, poetic phrasing intended or no. How would eyes breaking open fill one’s mouth with shattered glass? How can a smile crack a spine? What the hell does shooting sixteen candles mean (this sounds like a John Hughes horror parody)? What is a cardboard cutout of vanilla regurgitations? What do these phrases purport to accomplish? Other than stringing together random words in an attempt to sound poetic and deep, there is no actual meaning ascribed to these phrases, which is incredibly irritating. Beyond these examples, there are also the use of the strike-through – which, unfortunately, also doesn’t ever seem to attribute any actual meaning or added value to the text (besides gimmickry). I get what Ana’s saying that this is meant to be indicative of Juliette’s mental health, but I just don’t buy it. For example:
“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.
He saved my notebook.
Adam saved the only thing I own.
Why does that sentence need to be struck-through? Often in the narrative, Juliette’s words are repeated and struck through, only to have her say the exact same thing. Furthermore, as the book wears on, the strike-through technique fades almost completely from the story, leading me to believe even further in the gimmicky nature of the device. It’s a shame, too, because this is the kind of thing that I love – I love experimental formats that construe meaning with form as well as content (Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves immediately comes to mind as an excellent example of this). Unfortunately, Shatter Me feels like the victim of its own excesses.
Beyond the problems of format, there’s also the blandness (or vanilla regurgitations?) of its main characters. Juliette is sickeningly saccharine, like Ana says, but as narrator, she’s also strikingly inauthentic. There’s a lot of telling in this book without showing (i.e. “Her lack of compassion as a parent devastated me
and it reminded me too much of my own mother.“). This applies to the dystopian elements of the story too, as told through Juliette’s voice. We are given data-dumps in Juliette’s narrative about how the population was dying at an alarming rate before the Reestablishment took over and enforced their predictably totalitarian regime on the surviving vestiges of humanity. As far as dystopias go, this one is pretty standard with evil big government, dissenters thrown in jail, society militarized and homogenized, and so on and so forth. There’s no real emotion vested in this society, though, and the fact that a sadistic, cartoonish teenager is at the helm of the operation doesn’t help improve matters.
Ultimately, I gave up a little over halfway through the book because I was exasperated with the overwrought, trying-too-hard writing, the lackluster characters, and the inherent silliness of the society. While Shatter Me might appeal to others, it is not the book for me. This, unfortunately, is one of my few DNFs of the year.
Ana: 4 – Bad
Reading next: Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey