12.15.2011

Shatter Me

My advice to you is this: if you are a YA fan and have not read (or, indeed, do not know anything about) Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, then don't read this review beyond the first paragraph. Go find yourself a copy but do not read the summary, do not look for anything online, just start reading. Let this utterly fascinating and completely riveting story engulf your senses and steal away with your afternoon. Bid it farewell with delight, for the hours spent reading at breakneck speed be well spent. Be warned, though -- if you read this on public transportation, you will miss your stop. If you try to read this while something is cooking, your food will burn. Attempting to only read part of this novel will be a very hard task, as it will set upon your attention like a terrier, refusing to relinquish its hold until you've read every last word. So just trust me and go.

I will assume the rest of you who are still reading have already (a) read the book or (b) at least read enough to know the general plotline. I'll confess that I knew nothing whatsoever about Shatter Me before reading it which might be surprising, since everyone around me was raving, but I absented myself from conversations that got too specific. I only knew that those people were being so complimentary and several of them were people whose opinions actually mattered in my estimation. Rather than trying to educate myself, I decided to just start the novel and I cannot begin to describe my delight in this experience as I was swept away in the strong current of Mafi's storytelling. The story is deceptively simple and, frankly, somewhat common in its basest form if one considers the large number of dystopian novels piling up on our shelves these days. Yet I feel as though Shatter Me is a unique and precious tale, made rich by an author who allows us to see with new eyes.

Our narrator, Juliette, has been locked up for 264 days, during which she hasn't spoken to or touched another living soul. The reason the whole "hasn't touched" part is important is because Juliette's touch is what landed her in this cell, a prisoner of the Reestablishment. By touching someone, Juliette can inflict pain and can even kill. It's unintentional; it just happens. She doesn't know how or why but the mere fact has made her a prisoner, someone far too dangerous to allow to remain uncontrolled, particularly when it seems the Reestablishment is having difficulty maintaining power. Much of the beginning of her story is told in crossed out lines -- journal confessions adjusted so that the reader knows the conflicting thoughts and feelings within Juliette, who's struggling with her own comprehension of her situation, not to mention her sanity.

Stuck within the confines of this cell, with only her own thoughts for company, it's no surprise that Juliette herself clings to language like a life preserver and while some might find the prose to be a bit much, I thought it was rather fitting for someone who has all the time in the world to turn thoughts over in her mind. She's a bit strange, but then, so would we all after 264 days without real contact from another living soul. It's no surprise, then, that the introduction of a cellmate throws Juliette's world in to total chaos... particularly when that cellmate is a young man and perhaps not a stranger.

I won't go any further than that, really, where it comes to specifics. Juliette does see the world outside of this prison and we come to understand that the world is in chaos and the Reestablishment is barely holding on to control. While Juliette might see herself as a monster, there is the undeniable fact that she is powerful... and Juliette needs to decide whether she'll become a weapon or a warrior in the fight that could see the Reestablishment firmly in control or completely overthrown. It cannot all happen in the course of one book, but we definitely see a set-up for Juliette that presents her with options for her own life, love, and purpose.

There appear to be two camps where Mafi's writing is concerned and I'm rather firmly in positive camp. There are moments when action or emotions could have been described more succinctly, but personally I was never truly displeased with the more elaborate style of communication that Mafi/Juliette adopts. The love triangle is both strange and a bit predictable. The obvious good choice is so very good and the obvious villain is perhaps even more appealing for sheer interest value. The dystopian society is intriguing enough for a first novel in a series where one knows the second will likely take us further in to the complications and details of conflict. As I mentioned before, it's not the world itself that is the most intriguing, but Juliette's perspective and journey. Great storytelling can come from a tale that everyone has heard as long as the story is told well and I feel that Shatter Me is very illustrative of this concept.

I know that Juliette's power is all very X-Men, so I have trouble pinpointing exactly why it still felt like a unique idea for a dystopian novel setting. I think my favorite parts were all a little twisted, so maybe that's where my X-Men affection comes in. We might think we know exactly who's good and who's bad, but I'm looking forward to learning more about what compels both sides. I have a feeling it's all more complicated than we think. And with so many dystopian novels out there, I'm really relying heavily on my connection with the characters to be what sees me through. The crumbling world isn't what kept me reading late in to the night... it was Juliette and watching her cope. Everyone else might be falling to pieces, but Juliette is just learning to build herself up in to something strong and fearsome because her power cannot be ignored. She is not normal and that isn't something for her to lament any longer. She has to embrace it if she's going to survive. Shatter Me features a female character who has to find her own strength and courage (sure, there's a cute boy around to help her do that, but the romance here can be quite fun, so I accepted it... harder to accept is the standard girl in a pretty dress on the cover but whatever) and I'm looking forward to the next stage in this series. I sure hope it keeps the momentum going because I was delighted with this and it deserves some fantastic follow-up.

Full disclosure: I don't work on this book, but it does factor in to my professional life. My review is my own personal opinion, though, so weight this knowledge as you see fit.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Love this review and this book. So much.