Book Review: Tahereh Mafi’s SHATTER ME

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.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Tahereh Mafi’s SHATTER ME

  1. Writing is so hard, isn’t it? I read the stuff I love (like Hunger Games, which just seemed effortless) and then bang my head on my desk as I struggle with my fiction. Then I read books, actual published books, which aren’t finished both in terms of unmet potential and proofreading. I read a book last year in which an important plot development is discussed in a conversation about fifty pages before it even happens. People went to sleep in one apartment and woke up in another. And finally, the killer was really unlikely. This is both hope-inspiring and terrifying. If these people can be published, so can I, but what if the product is embarrassing after all the effort? We must be honest with ourselves, and hopefully our beta readers will be honest with us as well.

  2. I hear you… It’s so difficult to know what good writing is because the things I think are good often don’t sell, and the things I think are mediocre are best-sellers. Some of the books I read inspire me because I think I write as well as so-and-so, but others make me freak out because I know I’m not good enough.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a step back and considered the importance of honest readers. Getting critiques has always seemed like a necessary part of the process, but it isn’t something I feel grateful enough for.

    I should probably give all of my honest readers big kisses when I get off the interwebs in a moment. They are indispensable.

  3. This is the second mitigated review I read of this book… You’re not alone in thinking this book is not so great; I think I’ll pass (not that I buy a great many new books, anyway).

    Your analysis of what worked and what didn’t (mostly what didn’t, LOL) was very interesting, though. As a fellow wannabe writer, it’s good to read the opinion of people like you, who clearly state their expectations and tastes.

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