Book Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

The Dear Freshman series which fell behind last semester will eventually continue, but I just finished this awesome series and will be spending the next month talking about it, because feelings.

About the Book

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.

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My Thoughts

I remember reading this book in high school, but the memory is very fuzzy. I apparently gave it three stars on GoodReads but never wrote a review. And the series wasn't finished yet, so I kind of left it by the wayside.

Based on the cover and ISBN number, I think this most recent printing of Shatter Me, with an updated (and beautiful) cover, might also be an updated version of the story. Not sure, just a theory. Anyway, not important.

The story begins with a lot of stream-of-consciousness narration from our main character, Juliette Ferrars. She's spent the last 264 days alone in the concrete block of her room in an insane asylum. Sometimes, she's let out of her room in pitch darkness for a few minutes to shower, and a burning-hot substance resembling food is delivered through a slot in her door. Her journal is the only thing maintaining whatever shreds of sanity she has left.

The writing style of this book (and the series) is quite unique, and the trademarks of Juliette's narration are heaviest and most prominent at the beginning. Her words trip over each other, describing everything in metaphors, honing in on the details important to her and skimming over everything else. Every chapter, in some parts every page, is dripping with beautiful alliteration. I love it. It's not a style for everyone, but I found it beautiful and engaging and so very real. I think the first thing that hooked me into this series is just how relatable the tangled, runaway words in her mind felt.

The characters are vivid and individual. Adam, her first friend, brings life and humanity back into her life. The despicable young Warner inspires fear, curiosity, and hatred all at once in both Juliette and the reader. And the other people Juliette meet along the way infuse her isolated life with laughter and honesty and compassion and empathy unlike anything she's ever known.

I've read a few of the negative reviews on GoodReads, trying to remember why I didn't get into the book my first time reading it. Personally, part of my trouble might have been that I just didn't understand or relate to Juliette's narration; my own mental breakdown in 2015 has dramatically altered my worldview and my own internal dialogue. There are other readers who find her metaphors excessive and her poetic descriptions exhausting, and that's fair. I don't anymore. The biggest problems I found in the GoodReads reviews that I do think affected my first reading as well can all really be boiled down to the fact that this book doesn't stand on its own.

Shatter Me is the first in what began as a trilogy and is now becoming an expanded series, with the fourth book scheduled to release on March 6 of this year. The story drew me in and surrounded me so completely that I finished the whole original trilogy in a week. I've read more non-homework pages in the past week than I did all of last year. But if this were the only book available right now, if I'd had to stop and wait a few months or years to reach the events of Unravel Me and Ignite Me, I might have left the series unfinished again.

The characters don't develop as much as they have the potential to. So many of their actions, especially Warner's, seem like they deserve further exploration and explanation that never comes. The story ends at a strong and natural pausing point, but not a stopping point; the classic YA trilogy cliffhanger. Some characters, such as the soldier Kenji or (nevermind, spoilers), are introduced too late to be fully fleshed out.

And there were several issues with the story. Adam and Juliette's relationship develops too quickly, and they barely know each other. Plot conflict resolution was too easy. There's too much kissing and not enough focus on surviving and running. These are valid reader complaints, all of which are addressed in later books and make much more sense. The inevitable conflict and tension of a relationship built on hormones and ideals comes to a head. The too-easy escape and survival of the characters prove that "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is." And 'just because Juliette can touch someone doesn't mean she should,' as well as 'the world is falling apart and we don't have time for all this drama and kissing and emotion' are both very bluntly called out in the text.

(Another complaint from many readers is that the story rips off X-Men. I have never read or seen anything remotely related to X-Men, so I wouldn't have a clue.)

If you don't like metaphors, alliteration, or poetic prose, this is not a book for you. If you're looking for an individual novel, a self-contained story, this is also not for you. But if you're seeking to start a beautiful, gripping YA series that will continue after the first "the end" and absorb your attention with overwhelming emotions and beautiful, elaborate writing, I definitely recommend this book. Five stars from me.


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