Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

"My body is a carnivorous flower, a poisonous houseplant, a loaded gun with a million triggers and he's more than ready to fire."
"I don't want to be anything for anyone but myself. I want to make my own choices and I've never wanted to be a monster."

Shatter Me is yet another dystopian trilogy in the world of young adult literature by new author, Tahereh Mafi. The Earth is in the process of disintegration and decay. The natural world is dying.
"..the animals are dying, birds don't fly, crops are hard to come by, flowers almost don't exist. The weather is unreliable...We can't grow enough food anymore, and we can't feed the people what they need...The natural elements were at war with one another because we abused our ecosystem."
With the population of Earth dying off precipitously, the Reestablishment has promised to save humanity. They will accomplish this by destroying all remnants of the existing culture. This includes eradicating currently existing language and destroying all books and art.  Instead, what has happened is that more people have died through the violent policies of the Reestablishment.

Into this setting we are introduced to seventeen year old Juliette Ferrars who has been in isolation for months. She has been imprisoned because she is considered a danger to others, for Juliette's touch is fatal. Her parents sent her away three years ago, after she hurt her mother and injured a toddler she was trying to help. Her existence for the past 264 days has been a solitary room with a small window, no human contact and little food.

Until one day a young man is placed into her cell. That young man is Adam Kent, a boy she knew when she was a child and whom she remembered because he was always kind to her. Juliette and Adam make the astounding discovery that he can touch her. This leads Juliette to begin to trust and believe in herself again. She begins to reconsider her belief that she is nothing but an unlovable monster. Soon, Juliette and Adam are removed from the solitary cell and taken to a Reestablishment compound where Juliette is offered a chance to work with the Reestablishment. In the compound she meets Warner, a possessive, cruel leader in the Reestablishment who wants to use Juliette's ability to harm others for his own gains.

Adam is now assigned to guard and live with Juliette while Warner attempts to convince her to make her life with the Reestablishment. During this time, Juliette and Adam develop an intense physical attraction for each other. This attraction dominates their relationship and the lengthy descriptions of make-outs between the two begin to make the novel read at times like romance pulp fiction. I was hoping the author would spend some time further developing her characters because Juliette's strange ability showed promise of making her an interesting character.

They decide to plan their escape from the heavily guarded compound and are successful. From this point on, the novel focuses on Adam and Juliette avoiding recapture by the Reestablishment army and the obsessed leader, Warner, and finding sanctuary with a rebel group known as Omega.

Told in the voice of Juliette, Shatter Me contains many crossed out lines in the text - thoughts she has but doesn't want to admit to. At first much of the text is crossed out, but as Juliette gains self-esteem and control over her situation, as she comes to terms with who she is, the crossed out text gradually disappears. This was a very original way of demonstrating such a significant change to the reader.

Mafi's writing is decidedly metaphorical and laced throughout with similes and unique descriptions. Her writing style is truly different and at times captivating. Some examples include  "his voice like an icicle piercing the flesh of my memories"  to describe Warner's effect on her and "My bones are like cubes of ice clinking together, chilling me to my core." to describe how she feels when Warner tries to tell Juliette why Adam volunteered for his project with her.

While the novel began in an original way, it eventually devolves into an X-Men remake in the final chapters. I felt the plot line fell apart after Juliette and Adam escape to Adam's home. There were many possibilities at this point, but the author chose a less than unique way to move forward. We learn that there is a rebel group named Omega comprised of approximately fifty-six others who have "superpowers". They wear special suits designed for their particular "powers" and live underground in a secret, high-tech society. These people appear to be kind and altruistic. They are fighting the Reestablishment who has fed society with lies and are starving the people to control them. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, it will be interesting to see how Mafi develops the story line further, without it reading like an X-Men story.

Another aspect I didn't like about Shatter Me was the fact that both Adam and Warner are able to touch Juliette. When only Adam was able to touch her, it made the relationship between them special and significant. With Warner added to the mix, that twist evaporates. Again it remains to be seen why this is and how the author develops this part of the story line.

I'm also puzzled by the cover of Shatter Me, which I frequently looked at while reading this book, trying to figure out why this design was chosen. If the girl on the cover was wearing a purple gown, it might have made sense, since this is the dress that Warner wanted her to wear and by doing so would mean that Juliette was beginning to acquiesce to his demands. The subtle colour contrast in the cover design, the black versus the white seems to suggest a conflict the character might have over her ability. However, I felt that Juliette did not experience any deep conflict over how to use her ability. She knows her power harms others. She knows she can't use it as a weapon. She wants to be normal but in the end she does see herself as something special.The book's byline of "My touch is lethal.  My touch is power" suggests a change in how Juliette viewed her power, which I agree does happen. But I actually prefer the byline on her website of "Be a weapon. Or be a warrior" This is the choice Juliette was given and there was never any doubt which she would choose. I felt the conflict was more about how Juliette views herself.

Although there are plenty of things I didn't like about the book, the storyline for the most part was interesting and I enjoyed reading the book. What I did enjoy very much was the dialogue between Adam, his friend Kenjii and Juliette. This section of the book added much comic relief to a story which up until this point had been rather intense. I will be interested to read the next book, which at this point is titled, Unravel Me and is due out in 2013.

You can check out Tahereh Mafi's website at http://www.taherehmafi.com/

Book Details:
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
New York: Harper Collins      2011

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