I picked a great time to return to the YA genre. Well, reading in general actually. I have not read a single dud this month and it’s not even over yet.
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.
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is the first in a dystopian trilogy about a girl whose touch can kill. We find Juliette locked in an asylum where she has been in isolation with only numbers to keep her company. The number of cracks in the four walls of her cell, the 264 days since she last touched or spoke to someone, her own unwanted breaths… Then she gets a new cellmate and everything changes.
Shatter Me is told in the first person with a stream-of-consciousness writing style and frequent strike-throughs as our tortured heroine edits her own thoughts. This helped things seem very immediate despite the fact that the first book in the Shatter Me trilogy is mostly about introducing us to the main characters and to a world at once familiar and changed, where the ruthless Reestablishment rules.
Juliette has been deprived of any kind of stimulus for so long that her explanations are very detailed. This makes her a great vehicle to deliver the necessary world-building information to the reader without it feeling shoe-horned into the narrative. She’s a likable and sympathetic protagonist BUT being solely inside the head of someone so, well, emo will not be to everyone’s taste. Nor will the purple prose.
I always wonder about raindrops.
I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors.
I am a raindrop.
My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab.
The unique writing style that people have been raving about is the same thing that will appeal to some readers and repel others. At times Shatter Me feels like the product of only two ingredients: repetition and metaphors. As for the repetition, while it suits our narrator and highlights her inner turmoil, it can also be the cause of much eye-rolling on the part of the reader.
“You can’t touch me,” I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him. He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. Please touch me, is what I want to tell him.
>And as for the metaphors. Good God, the metaphors. Though unique, some of Mafi’s metaphors just do not work. By which I mean that I had to step outside the narrative for a couple of seconds to figure them out.
Heat rushes up my neck and I fall off a ladder holding a paintbrush dipped in red.
Some metaphors (usually describing Juliette melting/crumbling/falling/shattering to the ground) are even reused. Use a bad metaphor once, shame on you; use it twice, shame on you AGAIN.
Despite all that, I have to say I tore through Shatter Me, particularly after the introduction of our antogonist. Warner is unapologetically twisted and fascinating especially next to Adam, the object of Juliette’s insta-love. Adam is a cardboard cutout of protective, supportive and gentle boyfriend material. He’s lovely. The obvious choice. And that’s why he pales next to Warner. But I can sense a triangle forming, and even though I feel pretty sure how it will end, I do want to see it through.
Personally I didn’t find Juliette’s narration too annoying (ask me again after Book 2) and I loved Tahareh Mafi’s consistent attention to numbers throughout –
7 seconds of silence join the conversation.
And her description of time and it’s passage –
Killing time isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I’ve been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.
(So much that I couldn’t narrow it down to just one example!)
He leans back against the couch. Runs one hand over his face. Season change, Star explode. Someone is walking on the moon. “You know I still remember the first day you showed up at school?”
Tahereh Mafi approaches description from a unique standpoint that had me pausing after certain passages to wonder why I had never thought of putting it that way myself, or of putting it any way at all. Other times I wished she had ended a sentence sooner rather than finding two more ways to say the exact same thing and indulge Juliette’s angst.
By the end of Shatter Me a superhero element had entered the plot and I’m not sure how I feel about it since it increases the parallels between Juliette and Rogue from X-Men. I do know that I am dying to read what happens next. I once described Twilight as “a guilty pleasure more than a literary treasure” and, though far better written, I feel similarly about Shatter Me. It’s flawed but thoroughly enjoyable.