Sunday, May 26, 2013

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

Unravel Me is the second book in Mafi's very popular Shatter Me trilogy.

Juliette Ferrars is now at the rebel underground headquarters, Omega Point, where she shares a room with the healing twins, Sonya and Sara. Omega Point is also a safe haven for people like Juliette, who have special abilities.

At first she was happy to be there, but she is having trouble adjusting to life in the underground compound and is becoming increasingly isolated. She's made no friends, and reaches out to no one. This is of concern to Castle, the leader of Omega Point, who wants Juliette to learn to harness her abilities so they can be used in the war against the Reestablishment. All Juliette knows is that her touch is deadly - that people die. So Castle assigns Kenji to help Juliette learn the extent of and  how to control her abilities and also to assimilate into Omega Point. To help her in her training, Juliette has been given a specially designed suit that protects her and those around her. The suit allows others to touch her and the gloves allow her to touch others.

When Juliette finally sees Adam Kent, she learns that testing has shown that he too has some unusual energy ability which is probably the reason he can touch her. Alone with Adam, Juliette discerns that something isn't quite right, despite the presence of their usual passion for each other. Later on, believing Adam is withholding something from her, Juliette forces Kenji to take her to the research part of the compound where Adam is. Juliette becomes extremely upset at what she discovers there - that Adam is in great distress while he is undergoing tests. In such a state, Juliette strikes the ground causing a fissure to open, nearly destroying the compound and severely injuring herself in the process. Since the healers, Sonya and Sara, cannot touch Juliette they cannot heal her and Juliette must recover on her own.

When she is slightly recovered, Kenji tells Juliette that he doesn't know whether she is trying to destroy them or she just doesn't know the extent of her abilities yet. Although Juliette has been trying so hard to convince others that she is not dangerous, Kenji tells her that she has to face the fact that her unique abilities make her dangerous and that,
" have to learn how to control what you do -- how to contain it. You have to deal with who you are and you have to figure out how to live with it. Just like the rest of us."
Castle tells Juliette that Adam's ability involved using his energy to disable other people's abilities and that he has been using it mostly as a self-defense mechanism. Juliette realizes that Adam is not able to actually touch her but that he has been using his ability to extinguish Juliette's ability so that he can touch her. Juliette, who is deeply attracted to Adam, is devastated. She does not want to be the reason Adam is hurting and weakening himself and she is terrified that she will inadvertently harm him, even kill him. When Adam attempts to prove that he can cope, Juliette does in fact seriously harm him. She then makes the decision, to break off with him, despite Adam's pleas that he will in time learn how to cope.

Several days later, Castle sends a group above ground to try to determine what is going on. Omega Point is located in Sector 45 (which means very little to the reader since we haven't been told what this is or where it is or why it is important) which is overseen by Warner, the boy Juliette shot in order to escape in the first novel, Shatter Me. Warner is chief commander and regent of Sector 45 and he has been seen every day with the patrols, searching for something or someone. Juliette doesn't voice her suspicions but she believes that Warner is looking for her.

Juliette, Adam, Kenji, Winston and Brendan are sent on patrol to gather supplies. During this patrol, Juliette comes face to face with Warner, but Kenji steps in and using his invisibility energy makes her disappear when he touches her. Seeing Warner comfort a stray dog causes Juliette to question what she knows about Warner because she has only seen his cruel side.

The Reestablishment was elected by the people only 3 years ago to bring stability into a troubled world. But soon people realized that they had made a mistake and protests began. Civilians live in compounds and to be caught outside one is dangerous. The supreme commander is Warner's father, Anderson. There are six supreme commanders around the world for each of the continents and each is divided into 555 sectors. Warner's father is in charge of North America and he is one of the founders of the Reestablishment. Anderson is a cruel, psychopathic ruler. He has suddenly appeared in Sector 45 and one of the patrols comprised of Winston and Brendan has gone missing. Anderson has indicated that he wants to meet with Juliette.

A terrified Juliette agrees to meet with Anderson, so Castle sends her with Adam and Kenji, who can make all three of them invisible. She goes to a run down house on 1542 Sycamore Street where she meets Anderson. He tells her that this was a ruse to lure her friends out so that they can be destroyed and to teach his son Warner, a lesson. He orders Warner to kill Juliette, but Warner refuses. When Anderson brutalizes his son, Juliette uses her abilities to save herself and Warner, almost killing Anderson.

When all return to the Omega Point compound, Warner is held as a prisoner. Juliette doesn't tell Castle that Warner can touch her but he soon finds out. Juliette realizes that this means that Warner is like those at Omega Point - he has an ability too. Warner's ability is that he can channel other peoples abilities, he can sense perfectly other's emotions, accurately sensing what they are feeling.

Castle assigns Juliette to learn as much as she can from Warner about what is going on. Warner divulges very little except to say that his father is planning to attack Section 45 and destroy everyone in the area. During her time with Warner,  Juliette begins to fall hard for Warner. He is alternately tender and harsh, vulnerable but uncaring. She learns that he has been treated terribly by his father who tried to groom him to not care about hurting others. More secrets are revealed about Adam and Warner, and Juliette is now faced with an impossible choice; the boy she loves but cannot touch or the boy who can touch her but is her enemy.

Warner decides to leave Omega Point but before he does, he asks Juliette to come with him. Juliette doesn't want to join Warner because unlike him, she doesn't want to harm people.She is uncertain as to who Warner is and how he will use his abilities.

During the battle, Anderson, determined to be avenged for what Juliette has done to him,  re-captures her, deals a shocking lesson in cruelty and terror.

Mafi's novel is essentially a love triangle set in a dystopian scenario. The situation Adam, Aaron and Juliette find themselves placed in takes a back seat to the relationship drama between these three characters. There is very little storyline related to the world they live in, instead the focus is on the struggle between these three characters and their struggle against Anderson, who is an evil force in their lives.

This novel suffers from long drawn out descriptions of make out sessions between Juliette and Adam and especially Warner. Chapter 62 is the pinnacle of such descriptions in the novel and has received much hype from readers. Mafi is a sensual, highly descriptive writer, who explicitly details all the emotions Juliette is experiencing as she struggles to come to terms with her identity and as she struggles to define her relationships with Adam and Warner. Warner is the typical "bad boy", passionate and tender towards Juliette, frequently calling her "love" and who seems to know her better than she knows herself. But Juliette struggles with her attraction to Warner partly because she loves Adam and partly because she has seen Warner's cruel side. But she also begins to realize that she doesn't really know who Warner is.
"I know that he is a tortured soul who, like me, never grew up with the warmth of friendship or love or peaceful coexistence. ...
He's spent his life fighting to fulfill his father's expectations of global domination without questioning why, without considering repercussions, without stopping long enough to weigh the worth of a human life. ..He kills without remorse or regret and he wants me to join him..."
But later on, when Warner reveals a bit of his soul, Juliette discovers that she doesn't "know this Warner. I'd never be able to recognize this Warner." It's the perfect set up for the concluding novel where, presumably, we will learn who wins this epic battle of the heart. Mafi has already tweeted that she hope readers won't hate her after reading the final book!

Essentially all three main characters in this novel are deeply broken people, who have experienced brutal pasts. Juliette was abandoned by her parents and sent to an asylum where she was isolated and not allowed to have any human contact; Adam was abandoned by his father and he and his mother struggled to survive; Warner whose first name is Aaron, knew his father but was emotionally abused and deliberately exposed to cruelty in an attempt to harden him into a commander his psychopathic father could respect. All three, therefore, are looking for the love the never had and attempting to find that affirming love in the context of a sexual relationship. On top of all this, all three have newly discovered special abilities that would have been difficult to come to terms with even if they lived in a society that was relatively stable. I would love to see Mafi move her main characters beyond the realm of increasing sexual attraction and have them develop more mature, person-focused relationships that highlight the personal growth of each character.

Juliette does gradually undergo a change in the second novel. She still struggles with uncertainty and she tries to refocus her negative thoughts about being a deadly person. Kenji in particular, helps her to begin to come to terms with her abilities and encourages Juliette to understand her limits. For example, Juliette discovers that she has incredible strength and she and Kenji begin to work on that ability. Mafi could have developed this thread much more in the second novel especially since Kenji is the only character in the trilogy who provides relief from the intense emotional reactions that encompass the Adam-Juliette-Warner triangle. He is a very likeable, appealing character whom the reader would like to know more about.  By the end of the second novel, there are hints that Juliette is becoming a stronger person who doesn't just let things happen to her but who might begin to be the cause of events.

Those who might want to learn more about Warner, should read Mafi's ebook, Destroy Me, which tells Warner's story. In this novella, Warner continues to obsess about Juliette and becomes determined to find her and get rid of Adam and Kenji.However, when Warner learns of his cruel father's plans for Juliette, he knows he cannot do what he wants. Warner needs to find Juliette.

Readers who enjoy a heavy dose of romance and angst of the heart will find Unravel Me more than satisfying, even though it's drawn out through 461 pages.

Book Details:
Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi 
New York: HarperCollins    2013

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