Title: Shatter Me
Author: Taherah Mafi
Publisher: Harper Teen
Series: Shatter Me #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None
Sometimes, hyped up books and I just don't get along beyond a passing state of solid enjoyment. There are the hyped books that completely enthrall me when I read them (Divergent, Hush, Hush), the ones that slowly surprise me with how great they are (The Hunger Games), and the ones that fall extremely flat (Wings). Then, amid all of those hyped up books are the ones that come in the middle. You understand the hype, but the book doesn't resonate with you the way you wish it would - and you can see enough of the problems to prevent your total reader-ly devotion to the title. Shatter Me was one of those books for me. It's impressed countless people and is a fabulous novel in some respects, but other aspects kept me from really connecting to this first-book in a projected trilogy.
Juliette has been confined to a room by herself for many long years. She has been locked up because of a
Being imprisoned by the government has left Juliette with only a few threads of her sanity left. One day, she is seemingly saved by a boy from her past. Adam. He doesn't remember her, and she pretends to not remember him. He's not there as a savior, though. Not in the sense that she will be freed from the hands of the government that locked her away in the first place. Juliette is being taken to someone who shows interest in her. Someone who inevitably has power and wants more of it - her. It seems so wrong, and Warner himself seems to exude that wrongness - where Adam is kind, Warner is cruel. Where Adam is a sweet memory, Warner is a harsh reality.
Juliette is living the life of a lavish prisoner. Gone are her simple tiled floors, ceilings, and medically white walls. Gone is the fear of being alone. On the contrary, Juliette now fears being with Warner. Warner has studied her and knows her in and out. He tests her abilities and can be almost cruel. Yet Warner is also obsessed. Juliette is everything to him. She's a symbol of his power and a way to help him strike fear into his soldiers - and in turn keep his position in the government powerful. Warner is everything Juliette hates, but there may be something there underneath his dark surface. Juliette learns about herself and her powers as she spends time with devilish Warner, gets to know the boy from her past all over again, and begins to see just how awful the new governmental regime truly is.
Shatter Me is a novel that takes a huge risk with its characterization, yet at the same time utilizes tropes that we see often in supernatural YA fiction. One of the biggest things about Shatter Me - an aspect I'll break down further as the review goes on - is the crossing out of portions of the text. Right from the beginning, readers are thrust into Juliette's character conflicts because of the writing style. There is a severeness to Juliette's self-loathing, yet there is also a level of pride hidden deep within herself. The reader can easily understand why Juliette's imprisonment has lead her to such a bipolar conflict of self. She can kill people with her bare hands and was basically ostracized prior to her imprisonment. Having never felt like a "normal" girl, it's easy to understand why Juliette has this feeling of being a monster. Her confidence is a little harder to see in the beginning, but her entrapment with Warner leads to it. As Juliette is forced to confront her past and the abilities that she has been saddled with, she sees in herself the usefulness of her power. She sees the ability to manipulate for the good of things as well as the evil. She is toyed with and builds a shield around herself, making her being stronger. The reader sees this as she crosses out less and less. She doesn't hide her feelings as much, and she doesn't attempt to erase them and come up with a standard that seems less appropriate. The reader feels this intensity in the emotions because of the style, but also because Juliette's journey in Shatter Me is a personal journey - an emotional prequel to events to come that are decidedly on a grander scale.
The parallels of this story are surprisingly relative, though. Juliette's emotional journey is one that we've read about before - but instead of the usual reasons for teenage girl insecurities, we see reasons that are out of this world. Juliette is nervous around Adam because he doesn't seem to remember her. It was ages ago, but he's such a familiar face that she can't help but be disappointed. Her ostracism also leads those feelings to being more understandable. Juliette is a character that has been confined for so long that, realistically, it makes sense for her to pine for a connection with another character. Realizing that she has one is huge, and then having that connection disappear just as quickly is scary and hurtful to her. The themes of feeling ostracized, of liking a boy that doesn't know you exist, and of hating one's self because of a flaw are all common to YA, but the unique spin of Shatter Me makes them feel like new again. They feel like they are something new to ponder over, and that's a delightful thing to find in a book. Certainly, the mystery behind the story helps things along. The reader never quite knows what's going on, and it focuses a lot of the attention on the themes and emotional growth within Juliette's story.
The male love interests are really the only other characters that make a significant impact in Shatter Me. Mafi introduces characters near the end that open the story for a greater scope, but Shatter Me is very much a prequel novel that suggests better things to come in regards to a large cast of characters. Of the two boys, readers will find themselves extremely divided. Adam is the classic good boy. He aims to help Juliette along however he can. He has a past with her that awakes deep emotions within her. There's so much good in him, and he's also not the biggest fan of the governmental regime - which, as readers can expect, Juliette appreciates. The downside is that the reader doesn't really get to know much about Adam until later on in Shatter Me. The reader eventually sees more of how much of an awesome person he is, but he doesn't have as many underlying complexities as one would expect. Warner, on the other hand, is so complex that he can be frustrating. He's evil, malicious, and just plain bad. There's not initial reason to fall for him. But, oh, he can put on the moves. Warner is slick. There's also the fact that his obsession with Juliette, though creepy, is kind of endearing in his semi-psychopathic way. Warner is by no means a "good" character, but Mafi does a great job of hinting at his past and making the reader understand that there is a lot more to him than Juliette initially sees. This is ultimately what made me prefer Warner - he's a better character, a killer villain, and just much more interesting than his good-boy counterpart.
Then we come to what has made Shatter Me a stand-out novel in some eyes, and a trainwreck in other eyes: the writing. Going into the analysis, let it be said that the opinion on crossing out words as a stylistic technique is mixed. Some people find it fascinating, and others say it's one of the first creative writing things to avoid. I'm in the middle, because any technique and its literary value depend on what's being addressed and the execution. One also can't go in and tell people how to write, but instead analyze the merit of it. Shatter Me uses this technique in sporadic moments of genius. There are times when the crossing out feels really, really right. One page has an entire paragraph just saying
Attention is also called to Mafi's general style, which is anything but the ordinary for YA right now. Her writing is accessible to readers who don't normally go for detailed prose, but it definitely is prose that seeks to bring beauty in itself as well as the story it's telling. The trouble is that Mafi's prose needs tightening. Sometimes the metaphors seem to glitter on the page and show an extreme amount of beauty, but at other times the wording seems odd. Juliette's language can feel overdone in those moments, because the wording doesn't have enough weight or reason to it to hold up the narrative strength. Those clunky phrases also don't strike enough chords with the reader to be accepted as just a part of the beautiful language. Mafi's story is highly emotional, however, and her writing style is very representative of that high-emotion, especially during the story's first two thirds. Mafi's style shifts into a more action-intensive style as the story moves into its last third, but Juliette's poetic voice is still retained. Mafi's styling also makes it difficult to focus on world building and chronology. When the reader is taken out of the story, the years and days mentioned don't seem to coincide completely - and what's further is that the narrative doesn't seem to solidify the timeline of events. Nor does it really attempt to solidify a lot of the world building. Some exception can be taken because of the emotional intensity of the first half, but after a while a level of clarification would have made the story so much stronger.
Shatter Me is a novel that will resonate with a lot of readers. Juliette is a heroine that many girls will connect with. Mafi's writing is lyrical and skillful at times, and some readers will find every passage a delectable treat for the brain to read. The love story and emotional intensity combined with the dystopian/post-apocalyptic aspect makes for a very intense and fast-paced read. Other readers will find too much wrong with the writing style and world building to even like it the tiniest bit. My reading experience ended up in the middle - I wanted more from Adam and I wanted a cleaner writing style, as it was all too easy to get pulled out of the story if it stumbled. However, Mafi is clearly a talented writer, and the connection with Juliette, the interest in Warner, and the rip-roaring punch of an ending made me want to read on. Mafi could potentially surprise with the next two books of the series, and there's more than enough at her disposal to write a second and third book that knock this one out of the park.
Cover: This cover is okay. I love the shine and the title font, but the model just seems...odd. The dress is story-specific, and at least the hiding of her hands makes sense. It's striking and will attract attention on the bookshelves, at least.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!)