Tahereh Mafi has one of the coolest names ever, don’t you think? She also keeps a delightful little piece of the interwebs and has a much brighter outlook on just about everything than I do, which is why I was so inclined to support her career by purchasing her YA debut novel SHATTER ME.
Seventeen-year-old Juliette is the kind of girl who desperately wants to be connected to other individuals, but has a dangerous touch that can kill. When she was young, the kids at school were warned to keep their distance from Juliette because she is dangerous, and after an accident involving the death of a young boy, Juliette is placed in isolation so she can’t hurt anybody else… that is, until a young man with a little too much power seeks to use her touch as a weapon. SHATTER ME is a lot about connecting to other people, a lot about romance, and a little about society.
Unfortunately, SHATTER ME isn’t quite the book I wanted it to be. After reading Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES and Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT, I was expecting SHATTER ME to be a dystopian with superb world-building, action and depth. Instead, I found unfulfilled potential.
Juliette seemed like an intriguing character for the first few chapters of the novel, but as the story progressed, I realized she’s one-dimensional and doesn’t have a clear purpose. At the core of every story is a character who wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get (or not get) what she wants. At the beginning of SHATTER ME, Juliette wants to touch someone. She gets to touch someone about a third of the way through the book, and never quite develops another deep desire. She stereotypically wants (and sort of has) romance and people around her who accept her. In that way, she is realistic because most teenagers are flat stereotypes, but it’s extrememly difficult to keep readers interested in characters like that. What results for the last two-thirds of the book is the feeling of strolling away from a vague and undefined danger rather than sprinting towards anything that matters. Juliette seems like luggage being dragged around the pages, rather than a person trying to make her desires into reality.
The world-building in SHATTER ME was possibly the book’s greatest weakness; the draw of dystopian literature (for me) is the experience of an interesting world that could become a reality, but the world in SHATTER ME was vague and mysterious rather than detailed and tangible. When I was a freshman in high school, I had to give a report on New Mexico, and, oddly enough, I wish Mafi’s writing had been a little bit more like that ninth-grade state report. I wanted to know about the history, economy, media, geography, societal norms, entertainment, education… and everything about Juliette’s world. I didn’t need it to be quite as expansive as Middle Earth, but a map probably would have even helped. It was too much self-indulgent introspection and teen angst to give proper attention to the setting.
Something else that’s notewrothy is Tahereh Mafi’s writing style. On her blog, she uses the strike-through tool and figurative language to great effect, but in SHATTER ME, it borders on what writerly people call purple prose. There are too many metapors and simlies. It feels like Mafi is trying to be literary rather than just telling a story. I’m on the fence about the effectiveness in this case, because I think it’s possible that Juliette is just a dramatic teen who likes to think she’s a poet. However, when the story starts to pick up, the style abandons us and the story takes the front-seat. When it slows back down, it’s all clouds, flowers, unable to breathe, choking on the butterflies in your stomache, etc… I wish Juliette’s purple voice was consistent throughout.
All-in-all, I didn’t hate SHATTER ME, but also don’t recommend you go out and buy it. It’s probably three out of five stars, and certainly geared towards a Young Adult (female) audience.