Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: "Shatter Me" by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: November 2011
Source/Format: Library/Hardcover

From Goodreads:

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.
For the first time in I don't know how long, I finished a book in two days! So thank you, Tahereh Mafi, for breaking me out of my slow-reading slump! Shatter Me is a bit sluggish at the start, but once I cleared the first hundred pages it quickly became a fast-paced and addicting read...that is when it wasn't being bogged down by overly-metaphorical prose. When Mafi left the metaphors out and focused on dialogue or describing action, the story flowed much better and finally held my attention.

The world-building of Shatter Me felt a bit shaky at times--I was never quite sure if the story was meant to be set in an alternative present day or in the future. Juliette's descriptions of the world before the Reestablishment don't always match up. From her memories, life before the Reestablishment seems fairly ordinary: people drove cars, went to school, celebrated holidays. And yet:
There aren't as many trees as there were before, is what the scientists say. They say our world used to be green. Our clouds used to be white. Our sun was always the right kind of light. But I have very faint memories of that world.
On top of that, she's only "heard stories" about flying birds. All of this left me to question: was the environment already in trouble when Juliette was young, and people just went on living as usual despite it? Or is the ambiguity of Juliette's recollections of her world meant to showcase her alleged insanity? And that's not the only unsolved mystery of the book. Mafi poses so many questions that are never answered. What is the significance of Adam's bird tattoo? Why does it match the bird from Juliette's dreams? Why can Adam touch Juliette but no one else can? Why is that when Juliette and Adam make their escape she is suddenly susceptible to Warner's warnings, despite being completely wary of him before? Perhaps these are things that will be explained in the rest of the trilogy, but I wish we'd gotten a little more explanation in this volume.

Despite my misgivings about the world-building and writing style, the one thing that kept me reading was the relationship between Juliette and Adam. It was very sweet, the only point of light in an otherwise bleak dystopian world. However, by the latter third of the book, I could sense the beginning of a love triangle forming and was none too happy about it. Warner is such a despicable character--power-hungry and sadistic--that I really couldn't fathom how Juliette could even think about things such as his supposed good looks. I have a nagging feeling that Unravel Me is headed in a direction I really don't want it to go, as far as the relationship between these two is concerned.

Overall, I'm a bit conflicted about Shatter Me. On the one hand, it wasn't ever so bad that I considered shelving it as a DNF. I truly did enjoy reading about Juliette and Adam, and the last half of the book was pretty exciting. On the other hand, I found a lot elements (the prose, the world-building, Juliette's relationship with Warner) to be problematic. I'll be continuing the series with Unravel Me but depending on where Mafi takes Juliette and Warner's relationship, it will probably be a make-or-break read for me.

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