October 2, 2013

Shatter Me: A Panoramic Review

"Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, 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, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors 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’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
" (from Goodreads)

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

My reaction: 

Before I read Shatter Me, I know I saw comments about its shaky dystopian world-building...and I am inclined to agree that yes, it isn't all that realistic. There's a lot going on in terms of explanations for how the world is now, and I'm not sure how everything jives together scientifically.

The narrator Juliette is an interesting character, although I didn't totally connect with her. She's quietly intense most of the time, but not afraid to speak her mind when she wants to. She's also very dramatic and angsty. Granted, the situations she finds herself in are not enviable ones (like being imprisoned and told to torture people), but I have the feeling she could find drama anywhere. She spends a lot of time whining about her past as well as her present situation. We know she's been treated badly, and obviously that's gotta suck for her, but she makes all these really BOLD statements that end up feeling a bit repetitive. And Juliette doesn't really have much of a sense of humour. There is not a lot of laughing-and-having-fun to be found here.

That said, I found the Juliette-Adam relationship sweet; I like that the two of them have a history and connection. Warner's creepy and complex; it's very clear he likes power, and he can do stuff in cold blood, pushing emotions aside. Still, he seems to have some kind of longing for Juliette in a way. It's frustrating, though, that they spend much of the book battling back and forth without either of them really getting anywhere.

Best aspect: The importance of human touch to Juliette is described really well. It's something that most people don't think about, but she does because she isn't able to touch other people most of the time. That's why Adam is so important — his touch amazes and thrills her (and this isn't just a sexual thing, but also the fact that nobody else will touch her with skin-to-skin contact). The whole idea of the kinds of emotions that human touch can evoke in people and the comfort it can bring is illustrated effectively here, albeit in a somewhat dramatic fashion. (The idea of Juliette not being able to touch people, and thinking of herself as a monster, is overplayed somewhat.)
If I could change something... Well, there's a couple things I'd do. One would be to make the society's progression to this state clearer (and make sure it was scientifically valid). 

Another would be to make the villain more, well, villainous. Warner is extraordinarily patient, taking a long time to try to get what he wants. He has that cocky, know-it-all attitudes villains sometimes have that I find very annoying. I always hate it when villains are too overconfident. And I feel like Juliette's significance in the big picture is overstated — don't they have other ways of torturing people, after all? Why is she so important?

I also found the ending disappointing; while there is a climactic part that's cool, the resolution drags on for too long and then the book just sort of ends. I was expecting a big bang! surprise kind of ending, leaving the reader hanging, and thought it was strange that instead there was just a lengthy denouement.

If you haven't read it: and you like dystopian YA books that are heavy on the romantic angle and less so on the world-building logic, Shatter Me might be your cup of tea.

If you have read it: did you like Juliette as a narrator, or did you find her a little too angsty and self-focused, as I did?

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: The writing was over-dramatic for my typical tastes, abundant in metaphors and symbolism. There's definitely a poetic, literary bent to Juliette's narration. The writing style of words being slashed out — representing Juliette's innermost thoughts, such as what she's afraid to say or how she truly interprets what someone says — is an interesting device, although a little odd to read. It's neat, though, to see a YA author messing with the bounds of traditional writing style.

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.

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