Thursday, September 19, 2013

September Secret Reader Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: Harper
Pages: Kindle edition
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tahereh Mafi should be commended for writing the most first person of first person books that I've read. Mafi puts her readers inside of Juliette's head so completely that some sentences and paragraphs are little more than run on stream of conscious thoughts - that are occasionally crossed out in the same way all of us have tried to cross out or brush aside an errant thought that we don't want to be having. Shatter Me feels like a brilliantly poetic journal, containing some of the most beautiful descriptions, similes and metaphors that I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Juliette will remind some readers of Rogue from X-men, in that she can kill people with her touch. It's that deadly power that, after years of torment and neglect in a rapidly decaying, dystopian society, catches the attention of the government. The Reestablishment seizes Juliette and holds her prisoner for three years, a year of which is spent in isolation in an insane asylum.

Until one day, Juliette isn't so alone anymore.

A boy joins her in her cell and she's beautifully aware of him in all of the ways that a seventeen year old girl would be aware of a super hot seventeen year old boy.

The plot of Shatter Me is a standard one as far as dystopian novels go - Juliette is special, she has something that the Reestablishment wants and they intend to get it at all costs. She's tempted with promises of luxury and power, but her heart is pure and she rejects it along with Adam - the one boy who can touch her and has always loved her and oh so conveniently gets thrown into a cell with her in the insane asylum.

The plush apartment that is her cell also doesn't have surveillance equipment in the bathroom. Also convenient.

I don't point these things out to mock or detract from Shatter Me, but to highlight what this story is really about and that is Juliette coming into her own after a lifetime of trying to be invisible. Mafi, while inventive with her futuristic dystopia, isn't reinventing the wheel here and she knows it. She makes the wise choice to stay entrenched in Juliette's experience, dolling out details of her world when it matters, rather than in long-winded exposition at the beginning of the book.

To me, the real story picked up about half way through when Juliette and Adam break out of the evil Warner's clutches and escape the Reestablishment's army. They find Adam's brother James and make plans to run off together - until a former soldier, Kenji, shows up on Adam's supposedly top secret door step suffering from a beating and bullet wounds. The timetable on their plans is shortened significantly and they barely get out of the apartment in one piece.

During the chase that follows, Juliette is forced to get over herself, basically, if she wants to survive and by the end, she realizes she wants to do more than survive - for the first time she wants to live.

A downside to Mafi's style is that our view of the world is limited to only what Juliette thinks, sees, hears and feels - even more so than other first person narratives. As a reader, I was thrust into this story without a hint as to what was happening and while I wouldn't call that a bad thing necessarily, in the case of Shatter Me I was left feeling that if you scraped away the fancy prose, the actual story was rather shallow. Typical, I guess, of so many other YA novels where the quiet, overlooked girl with the tortured past grows up and comes into her own.

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking it, because that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm stoked to continue the series and see what happens. Mafi totally surprised me with where our characters ended up and as such I'm not so sure that I know exactly what kind of story she's preparing to tell. That's a very good thing.

I do have to wonder how much more compelling Shatter Me could have been if Mafi had taken a little of the creativity she used in composing her beautiful prose and put it into the plot of her story.

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