Juliette Ferrars can kill with a touch. Treated like a monster all of her life and finally thrown into an asylum and kept in isolation for almost a year, she is eventually collected, only to find that she is wanted as a weapon. Can she trust Adam, the boy she remembers as the only kind student at her school, or is he as bad as her captor, Warner, and the rest of the Reestablishment? Juliette must choose whether to agree to the Reestablishment’s wishes – or to fight back and potentially change the world.
The plot of Shatter Me will be greatly appreciated by lovers of dystopian and paranormal fiction for young readers. We learn about Mafi’s universe slowly, due in part to Juliette’s isolation at the book’s beginning. As she becomes aware of the changes that have taken place since her incarceration, so too does the reader, meaning that the full extent of the Reestablishment’s actions is not clear until the latter half of the book.
As a protagonist, Juliette is a complicated mix of power and vulnerability. She is physically strong, but emotionally weak, relying upon Adam to provide her with the feeling of security she desires. I think this vulnerability will endear her to many readers. Although her abilities set her aside from Mafi’s audience, her fears and insecurities make her nonetheless easy to identify with. It is easy, too, to sympathise with a character who has been so deprived of love and affirmation throughout her life.
It is Adam, however, who is sure to prove the favourite of most readers. He is carefully calculated to make a good proportion of younger readers fall immediately in love with him, from the descriptions of his buff appearance to the deeper aspects of his personality. For those who are greater fans than I of fated romances, Adam should be a much-appreciated leading man!
Personally, however, I was far more intrigued by the character of Warner, leader of the local contingent of the Reestablishment. I’m not sure I was meant to like him and very sure that I shouldn’t, but I have always been a sucker for a bad guy and Warner is so delightfully multi-faceted that I can almost justify his sections of Shatter Me proving to be my highlights. It takes skill to construct an antagonist who is more than just a caricature of evil and, for me, Warner was the character who I wanted to learn more about and wanted Juliette to “learn more about” as well.
Shatter Me has an interesting plot and strong characters, but the stand-out feature of Tahereh Mafi’s debut novel is her prose. This book is not written like your standard young adult offering. The language here doesn’t just tell a story. It becomes like another character, such is the strength of its presence. It pleases me that a book so devoted to the love of words and writing is being published and heavily promoted in a literary era that often values paint-by-numbers offerings over truly eloquent works.
To be fair, Mafi’s style didn’t always work for me. There were points where I found the prose a little too purple or out of keeping with the action it described. I think this is largely a consequence of a conflict between style and content. Poetic metaphor sits much more comfortably with Juliette’s internal monologue whilst confined to a cell than it does in the middle of gunfire. And I think there can be too much metaphor in a book of this length. There is a danger of phrases becoming repetitive or even just feeling repetitive if metaphor is overused.
That said, I will gladly take a novel that perhaps tries to be a little too clever occasionally over one that doesn’t try at all. There is a great deal of talent behind Mafi’s prose and I feel like she is only a little more writing experience away from being a truly incredible author. When she learns to harness her abilities she, like Juliette, will be capable of great things.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)