Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

At BEA 2011, there was a lot of buzz about Tahereh Mafi's debut novel, Shatter Me but because YA is not really my genre, I didn't pay too much attention.  But the buzz continued to grow, reverberating around the blogosphere, with folks swooning left and right over this book and when I happened upon the author signing copies at the New York Comic Con, I snagged one, ready to see if it lived up to the hype.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Shatter Me, #1
ISBN13: 9780062085481
ISBN10: 0062085484
Published November 15th 2011 by Harper/HarperCollins
Grade: B/B-
Blurb: 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.
In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting asThe Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices,Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

So, is Shatter Me as awesome as so many have said?  You know what?  Parts of it are.  This is one of those books that you want to fall into, immersing yourself in its engrossingly overwrought drama. It has a riveting premise.  We meet 17 year old Juliette, locked in an institution, isolated and ill-treated.  Juliette's touch is deadly to others and she has been locked away to protect society.  Because of her power, there are only a few times that she has felt the touch of another human being and currently, she hasn't been physically touched in months. However, though fragile, she is not without hope and it is that hope which gives her the strength to survive.  

Oh god, it is all so overly dramatic, so emotionally excessive!  And the first half of the book totally worked for me.  It was torturous to have to set it down when real life intruded.  Plus, Shatter Me is written in such a unique style.  It is kind of prose-y, with lots of strikethroughs and chock-full of metaphors that are used to good effect.  Narrated in the first person by Juliette, the style of the writing gives her a clear, unique voice, as well as giving the reader a good sense of who Juliette is.  

And then there is the villain... He is breathtakingly evil, one of those bad boys you love to hate and for the more fucked-up ones of us, utterly enthralling.  Like a seductive snake, Warner hypnotizes the reader, making you forget for the moment that he is batshit crazy, a psychotic who thrives on torture and murder.  He is all fascinating menace, with hints of complications. He's a teenage girl's wet dream.  Naturally, he is obsessed with our heroine.  Warner wants to give Juliette everything; all she has to do is use her dark powers to further Warner's reign of terror and the two can live in some kind of convivial, Guantanamo-like bliss.

There is also a dreamy love interest type who - while not the most exciting of characters - really goes the extra mile to help Juliette escape from the nightmare her life has become.  I found him kind of bland but I'll say this about Adam - he's not a douche.  Despite his own horrific childhood, he has grown up to be a young man of courage and honor and it is understandable that Juliette develops feelings for him.

So obviously, I emotionally connected to this book.  It was an easy, quickly paced read.  If real life hadn't intruded, I would have read it in one sitting. 
And then I got to the second half.  

I have never felt so strongly about the first part of a novel and so meh about the second. Once Juliette arrives at The Reestablishment base, the story begins a decline that is only slowed somewhat by the kickass villain.  When Juliette and Adam manage to escape from out underneath Warner's thumb, the story quickly goes south.  What starts out as an apocalyptic, dystopian tale ends up morphing into a mutant superhero story.  Despite having no trouble suspending my disbelief for the first half's fantastical elements, the second half of the novel was filled with things that had me rolling my eyes.  I'll give ya some examples:
  • All the hot boys want Juliette. Because she is so super gorgeous. I know they live on a military base and there aren't many girls around but still... her touch kills.  Ya'd think that would put a damper on things.  (Then again, perhaps I underestimate the teenage male's drive to get laid.)
  • Then there is the intense bond that Juliette and Adam share.  I know they knew each other in the past, having attended the same school BUT it was for a short period of time and the two never actually spoke to one another.  Yet this bond is so strong, that Adam spent years searching for Juliette.  He even joined the military so he could learn where she was being held.  And he just so happened to land in the unit that would lead him to that information.  Did I mention that he is also taking care of his little brother, keeping him hidden in a secret safe house?  Still, he managed to find the time to search for his long lost love - whom he has never spoken too!  
  • Juliette and Adam's escape from the Reestablishment was too easy, something Juliette acknowledged herself.  So I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but it never did.  When the two wind up in a utopian sanctuary populated by powerful mutants, I thought - this is too perfect.  To be honest, I didn't trust this turn of events and I kept expecting it to turn out to be some mad dream of Juliette's, much like what happened to Jonathan Pryce's character at the end of Brazil.  
It seems to me that the author started out with a terrific premise but got to the point where she couldn't figure out where to go and tacked on a superhero aspect.  It ended up feeling contrived.  And though the book moves at an exciting pace, the last 1/4 moved way too fast.  There wasn't enough time given for events to land properly and, ultimately, moved the story into adolescent wish-fulfillment territory.  This is the first book in a trilogy so I didn't expect things to be wrapped up completely but the ending of Shatter Me was abrupt and felt more like the end of a chapter. Not the end of a book.  As much as I enjoyed the first half, that is how much I disliked the second.  
Grade: B/B-

Where'd I Get It: from the publisher at the New York Comic Con

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