Thursday, 31 January 2013

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is a book I've been wanting to read for a long time. The premise sounded interesting and the style of the opening intrigued me. Also, the new US covers are really pretty. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to my expectations.
No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she's finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she'd lost forever.
The story opens with Juliette living in appallingly poor conditions in a mental hospital/prison where she's been thrown thanks to her superpower of being able to hurt and kill people with the touch of her bare skin. Then the dystopian government (or one specific leader there of) decides to use her as a weapon. Adam, a childhood sort-of-friend of Juliette's, works his way into the army so that he can be close to her with the hope of breaking her out. Also so that he can be the love interest right from the get go.

Distopia is as dystopia does.

Shatter Me suffered from a touch of nonsensical-dystopian-worldbuilding-itis. The US has become a military dictatorship for no clear reason (climate change was mentioned but didn't seem to be a severe contributing factor). As is usual in these situations, the rest of the world almost doesn't seem to exist (other countries are mentioned in passing eventually, though not so we'd know what was happening there). And, of course, the people in power, especially the leader Juliette interacts directly with, seem to be evil. How original. Sorry, but I'm a bit sick of this sort of world building. It started more promisingly when Juliette was still locked in her cell.

What is more promising is the style in which the story is told. It's in first person and Juliette constantly speaks in hyperbolic metaphors. She also second guesses herself a lot, particularly at the start, so that she says what she really thinks says what she thinks she should think. With the strike-through. Your mileage will vary as to how much you like the writing style. At times the poetic way in which she speaks came off as eye-rollingly wanky, but at other times I found the hyperbole endearing. She also has a habit of counting things a bit obsessively but I didn't feel this impinged on the story in a negative way once I got past seeing the numbers written in digits when she's doing this.

Juliette's attitude of disgust towards herself and her abilities was perfectly understandable. She never meant to hurt anyone and the fact that she can accidentally would be difficult to come to terms with. What did bother me a little bit was the instant feelings she had towards Adam when he showed up, but this was mitigated by the fact that she did in fact remember him from her childhood.

Warner, the local leader of the dystopian government, was a pretty good villain. He was appropriately power-hungry and creepily obsessed with Juliette. And good at hurting Juliette both intentionally and as a side-effect of being a power-hungry maniac.

Right up until the end I wasn't sure if I would bother reading the sequel. I didn't hate the reading experience overall, but neither did I love the story. However, it ended on a promising note, which is currently swaying me towards wanting to know more (when it comes out in paperback... if they keep the same pretty covers), pending friends' reviews, perhaps. All in all, I've definitely read worse YA dystopian books. I think Mafi uses both the twist of Juliette's abilities and the hyperbolic narrator's voice well to distinguish her book from others in the genre.

I recommend Shatter Me to fans of YA dystopias. Particularly to those who might be looking for something a bit more interesting in terms of stylistic choices. I am interested to see where the series goes — apart from the obvious bringing down the government, I'm not entirely sure. Not a terrible read, but not one of my favourites.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2011, Harper Collins US (Allen & Unwin in Australia)
Series: The Juliette Chronicles, book 1 of 3
Format read: paperback, US edition (as pictured above — the Australian covers are pretty terrible, especially in comparison)
Source: Christmas present (requested)

1 comment:

  1. I read it. I agree with your thoughts, though I won't be reading the rest. I also agree about the Australian cover - that girl in a ball gown was dreadful! I've had it on display in my library fr months, but no one has so much as picked it up to look at.