Book Review: ‘Shatter Me’ by Tahereh Mafi

Image Credit: Tahareh Mafi

Image Credit: Tahareh Mafi

I’m not even really sure how to begin to summarize Shatter Me, because there is just so much. We meet our protagonist, Juliette, in an insane asylum. Juliette has unique powers, similar to Rogue from X-Men: when she touches people she sucks the life out of them. As a result, she’s locked up in the asylum. In this setting, we learn about Juliette’s past, as well as the fairly recent shift in society that has led to the country being run by something called “The Reestablishment.” It’s your usual dystopian stuff – something bad happens, powerful people take advantage of it, even worse things happen as a result. Since the Reestablishment is still fairly new, neither the reader nor Juliette totally knows what’s happening outside of the asylum walls. During this section we are also introduced to Adam, a boy from Juliette’s past who is now a soldier for the Reestablishment.

Eventually Juliette is plucked from the asylum by a young leader of the Reestablishment, Warner. Warner has been researching Juliette’s life and is weirdly obsessed with her. He wants to convince her to use her special power to assist the Reestablishment with torture. She just wants to get away – and Adam wants to help her. This is where things start to get really interesting, and I will try not to spoil the excitement.

There are a lot of familiar elements in this book – dystopian society, YA-style love story, sci-fi or paranormal-type abilities – but the way all these elements come together is quite unique. The style of writing is really unusual. It’s like Juliette is writing a journal of her life in real time, including incomplete and run-on sentences, repetition, and extensive use of strike out. There are also oodles of unusual descriptions and metaphors. It takes just a little getting used to – at first I had to re-read a couple of paragraphs to make sure I understood what was happening – but once I acclimated, I really enjoyed it. The perspective skews a bit melodramatic, but I’m willing to give Juliette the benefit of the doubt given her circumstances.

Given her background, I thought Juliette was a fairly strong character. I appreciated that she stuck to her guns, even when Warner manipulates and tempts her to do otherwise. The back-and-forth between Juliette and Warner does get a bit redundant toward the middle of the book. After three or four incidents or conversations that are essentially the same, I was ready to move on. Fortunately, Juliette was too.

Adam was also a strong character – I appreciated the backstory for Juliette and Adam, as it really helped make their relationship (and especially Adam’s interest in Juliette) more realistic. Adam is a bit intense, maybe a little generic, but I could see the potential for him to be a lot more interesting as the series moves forward. I also really enjoyed Kenji, one of Adam’s army friends who will clearly have a larger role as the series progresses. I liked Kenji’s sense of humor and thought he functioned really well as a bit of relief from the bleak tone. I look forward to seeing him more in the upcoming books.

I will admit, the ending seems a bit out of place with the rest of the book. I was expecting it to happen, so it didn’t really throw me, but I can see how it might if you weren’t sure what direction this series is headed. The end also tends to follow very closely to an already existing story that I will assume inspired this book at least partially. At this point it’s hard for me to tell if I will be bothered or not by how similar some of the elements are to other material – it depends on how it fits in with the larger story. I’m willing to forgive borrowing ideas from other sources if it makes sense and is integrated creatively into a new story rather than just copying things that have already been done with the same concept. I think, and hope, that the Shatter Me series is going to put a creative spin on things and Mafi will find a way to make the story her own. At this point I have no reason not to be optimistic!

As the first book in a series, it’s hard to balance setup with action and enough intrigue to make you want to read the next one. I think this book is a great stand-alone, and while the ending is not a major cliffhanger, there’s plenty to wonder about regarding what will happen next. I fully expect the details of the Reestablishment to become clearer as the series progresses, as in this first book it’s a bit of a mystery. I also look forward to seeing what’s next for Juliette and Adam – I get the feeling there may be a bit of a love triangle situation in Juliette’s future. Based on the options for the third person in the triangle, I don’t know how I feel about that – but I’ve been surprised in the past by authors managing to win me over with a love triangle I thought I didn’t want, so we’ll see!

Overall I felt this book was very unique and had a great mix of action, mystery and romance. I can see how the style of writing might discourage some readers, so I don’t know if everyone would enjoy it as much as I did.  But I do think it was a refreshing and unique twist on YA dystopian – which is really nice to find when there are so many mediocre books in the genre.

I really loved this book and can’t wait for the second book in the series, Unravel Me, which comes out February 5, 2013. Fans of the series will also want to check out Mafi’s digital novella, Destroy Me, a short story told from Warner’s perspective which takes place between the events of Shatter Me and Unravel Me.

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