Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Pages: 352
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: November 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9781742378206

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days and the last time was an accident. Now accidental murder has her locked up in an asylum where happy is a hot meal and not being dead in the morning. No one knows why touching her skin for too long is fatal. No one knows how to fix her problem. 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. The ozone layer is deteriorating. Farms are scarce, food is hard to find, temperatures are unreliable and the clouds are the wrong colour.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things. They said the people were to blame for wasting and raping the land of its resources. It's time to start fresh, is what they said. Bleach the past and throw away the freaks. So they threw Juliette in a cell and chopped up the opposition while she blinked. Now enough of the population is dead that the rest 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 might be useful. Maybe a Venus flytrap is exactly what they need right now.
And maybe Juliette doesn't give a damn what The Reestablishment needs. Maybe she's tired of being a monster. Maybe she wants to be a human being for once in her life.
Maybe she wants to fight back.
But Juliette has to fight much more than a war. She has to fight herself for the right to be human and fight the world for the right to be free.

She has to make a choice.
Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Wow, that's a long synopsis. Is anyone still reading? Yes? Okay!

Shatter Me was a breathtakingly original paranormal dystopia. Juliette's touch is lethal, and she was ostracized from her community and family from a young age and given over to the Reestablishment who eventually threw her in a tiny cell. She hasn't touched another person in 264 days and interacted with another in almost as long. Until Adam is suddenly thrown into her cell one day.

You've heard of this book before. Of course you have. It's one of the most hyped upcoming YA books of the year. And while it was hard with an ARC that dedicated more space on the back of the book to bragging rights than the blurb, when it comes to books hyped this much, it's necessary to keep everything you've heard about the book separate to everything you find actually reading the book. If I'd went into this book with the amazingly high expectations that over early reviews have set, it probably would have fallen below them.

Though what couldn't have fallen under expectations was Tahereh Mafi's prose. It was brilliant. She used fragments that helped establish Juliette's initially scared and hesitant voice, and strikeouts that showed her internal conflicts. Written in such a uniquely lyrical fashion, there was a strong narrative voice. Juliette's struggles with her power and feelings were clear through the words in each sentence, paragraph, page.

The plot was engaging, the premise intriguing. The minor arc of Juliette and Adam's escape was the main focus for the most part, but the major arc of the series was introduced only towards the end. Shatter Me definitely had the the feel of a first novel in a series -- it set the context for a more large-scale problem to be eventually solved. Alone it was very compelling, but now that the scene has been set, the rest of the trilogy promises to be much more action-packed.

Though the dystopia setting was the canonical post-natural resources world where a new government sells their dictatorship as the solution, Mafi pulled it off in a refreshing way. The way Juliette reacted to her world so deteriorated in her absence was parallel to ours as we read about this almost plausible future version of our own.

Juliette was a dynamic character. Who she was at the end, triumphant and strong, was at complete odds to the version of herself at the beginning, cowering in her cell from the new boy. Her slow transformation into someone proud of her curse gift was touching, and the whole way there you'll be cheering for her.

The ending was slightly anti-climactic, with what felt like a little too much time spent after the drama had wound down, but it had a very 'X-Men' feel* and left us in a good place to continue the trilogy. The ending felt like a beginning, and I get the feeling know this series will only get better with each installment.

I give Shatter Me a 4 out of 5.

* Always a good thing. ALWAYS.