Holy mother of an unspecified God. Tahereh Mafi, what have you done to me? Just when I thought I was done with the YA genre, just when I had seriously considered deleting a ton of yet-to-read YA books off my kindle, I stumble upon this beauty.
I was not supposed to like this book. I went into this with very low expectations. There are literally thousands of negative reviews on Goodreads alone, and from what people were saying, I was pretty damn sure I’d be writing another one of my famous rant-y reviews by the end of it. Sure enough I started off as I meant to continue, as I was annoyed simply by the author’s short bio:
“TAREREH MAFI is a girl […] When unable to find a book, she can be found reading candy wrappers, coupons and old receipts.”
Shatter Me was supposed to be a steaming cesspit of manure.
[This would be a very appropriate moment for a “never-have-I-been-so-wrong” meme]
Shatter Me takes place in a dystopian future about which very little is known. Juliette is a seventeen-year-old whose very touch is deadly. Abandoned by her family, she lives in an asylum, locked away from the world. Until the Reestablishment claims her…
I should have had so many problems with this book. A lot of people did; thousands, as I mentioned earlier. So what was it that they all hated?
#1) The characters
Forget the secondary characters, I have no time for them. They’re all cardboard cut out archetypes (except Warner – love him), and I’m not even going to bother deconstructing a Gary Stu love interest. What I really want to talk about is Juliette. She is the reason the book is good. I’m not sure Tahereh Mafi could have done a better job with her, she got me right in the feels.
Juliette is a very different kind of YA protagonist. Through no fault of her own, her touch can actually kill people. Due to this, she is labelled a freak and no one ever comes near her. Her own parents are incapable of loving her, make it very clear to her that they do not consider her their child, and eventually get rid of her when she’s fourteen. For years she is shoved into prisons, institutions, until finally she comes to rest in solitary confinement in a bleak insane asylum, despite not even being insane.
Due to this, Juliette is a broken shell of a girl. She’s alone everyday believing she’s a monster because no one, not even her own family, has ever told her otherwise. In fact, they’re the ones who told her so in the first place. So many reviewers called her whiny and weak because she’s so crippled by her self-loathing, which is fair enough; I like my heroines to be kickass and un-weepy, too. But I feel that so many people have completely missed her intense and incredible realism.
Tahereh Mafi perfectly portrays someone who has been demonized their entire life and it is incredibly hard-hitting. Some people don’t understand what that’s like, but for someone who does it just brings such feels. Of course she’s broken, of course she’s a mess of a human being, she has been told she’s a monster her whole life, which is the kind of thing that does happen in real life. The psychological consequences of that kind of emotional abuse are detrimental.
But Juliette never truly loses faith, no matter how close she comes. Don’t tell me she’s not kickass – she stands up for herself, she refuses to hurt people, she punches through a goddamn wall to threaten the evil man who wanted her to kill a baby. It would be so easy for her to be seduced by the dark side, but as much as I would love to read that, I have more love for the fact that she stays true to being good. I can respect that kind of strength of character so much more than I can respect a sword-weilding, kung-fu practicing heroine, that’s for damn sure.
If Juliette was any other kind of character I would have despised the love story. Juliette’s love for Adam is the only thing that gets her beginning to think that she’s not a monster after all, and I do understand why the negative reviewers called bullshit on that one. But yet again, Tahereh Mafi is going for the realism of the character. As much as we’d all like to see Juliette give a great big fuck you to the world and Beyoncé herself into letting go of her pain without the help of a man, it’s not realistic. Juliette has never been loved. I don’t care how many issues of Cosmo you read, without even one person to ever tell you that you’re worth something it is impossible to undo a lifetime of negative reinforcement. So it takes perhaps an unfeministic approach to getting Juliette on her feet. I didn’t care. Sure, Mafi could have gone down a route comparable to Disney’s Frozen and made it all about family love or friendship, but that would be at the cost of some major feels. Romantic love is the most coveted and for someone who’s never known any form of love to finally find the purest and most special kind? That just hits you right in those feels.
You don’t have to like Juliette. It’s impossible for everyone to understand such emotional turmoil in a character and why the respected realism in her character is so hard-hitting. But I can tell you that if you do understand Juliette’s plight you will be left a crying mess after reading this.
So what’s the next complaint?
#2) The writing style
The book is written as if it were a series of diary scribbles, which leads to inevitable subjectivity. It’s written in first person, present tense. Definitely my least favourite narrative, but it usually doesn’t mar my enjoyment of a good book. Numbers are not spelled out in this book; it’s 2 instead of two. I do not like this. Words and sentences are often repeated. I also do not like this.
The biggest complaint by far was that
lots of sentences are crossed out. It’s a style choice that I was certain would distract me and I was very surprised to find that it didn’t. Not only that, it actually added a whole new layer of meaning to the story. It was so simple and so effective, I ended up really loving it.
My parents stopped touching me when I was old enough to crawl. Teachers made me work alone so I wouldn’t hurt other children. I’ve never had a friend. I’ve never known the comfort of a mother’s hug. I’ve never felt the tenderness of a father’s kiss. I’m not insane. “Nothing.”
5 more seconds. “Can I sit next to you?”
That would be wonderful.”No.”
Another huge problem among reviewers was the prose that bordered on the purpleish spectrum. Now I hate purple prose. With a passion that is no less than absolute, buuuuuuuuut not quite so absolute that I am unwilling to admit that a little bit can be quite nice on occasion. I’m also not one to react favourably to the overuse of metaphors, specifically shit ones. Shatter Me toed the line quite seriously on these matters. There were a lot of purple prose and metaphors stuffed in there, and some of them were downright ridonkulous:
“So much everything all the things dead.”
“I inhale so fast my lungs collapse”
“I should move, I should lift my arms, I should spread my feet, I should remember to breathe. Someone is cutting off my neck.”
“He says it with a small smile the size of Jupiter.”
Some phrases however were…well, still weird as hell. But for some reason, they did it for me:
“I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favourite lipstick all smeared into the earth.”
“His lips are at my ear and he says nothing at all, but I melt until I’m a handful of hot butter dripping down his body. I want to eat every minute of this moment.”
As for the rest of it, it turned out to be okay. I can’t say I adored it because I am the kind of person who will DNF a book for the over-use of purple prose. But Shatter Me didn’t completely overdo it, and the purple prose actually helped connect me more to the story. I understood Juliette’s feelings more when I read it; words were rarely out of place, the symmetry was actually quite moving, and in the end I enjoyed it. I never thought I would.
The third and final complaint?
#3) The plot
I’m all about a good plot. I will always take a plot-driven novel over a character-driven one. Except when the character-driven ones are so amazing that I don’t give a shit about the plot. Which is what happened here.
World-building = practically non-existent and weird
Stuff happens = only halfway into the actual novel and even then it’s not great
I don’t blame people for getting mad at the plot. I just loved Juliette so much I didn’t care.
The great thing is that now there is room for more development in the sequel. We can learn more about Juliette’s powers, we can learn more about this dystopian world and hopefully it will make sense. Let’s just hope it’s not all at the expense of Juliette’s development. Her kind of issues don’t just disappear over night, so I’m looking forward to her growth and I’m expecting to see some tough times ahead. I also want to see more of Warner because he was deliciously evil. I absolutely love a good asshole as long as he’s not the love interest. And sometimes even if he is the love interest…
To sum up, be careful going into this novel. Shatter Me is a marmite book and you will undoubtedly hate it if you don’t understand or care about the psychology of Juliette’s condition. But if you do…God help you, you’re going to cry.
Read my review of Unravel Me