Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

UK book cover of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

When Shatter Me was first released, I was desperate for it. I stalked it for months before release but couldn’t afford to purchase a copy. Finally, finally, some lovely person sent me a RAK… then I took more than a year to read it, obviously. And was it worth the wait? Was it everything I’d hoped and dreamed of? 

Nope, absolutely not.

Plot summary:  I have a curse. I have a gift. I’m a monster. I’m more than human. My touch is lethal. My touch is power. I am their weapon. I will fight back. 

No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time–and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever. In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a riveting dystopian world, a thrilling superhero story, and an unforgettable heroine.  

It’s not great. Or even ‘good,’ really. Maybe it suffered under the weight of my heavy expectations, but I didn’t like the style, story, ending, characters or prose. In short, it doesn’t have a whole lot going for it really!

The first thing I noticed is how gimmicky Shatter Me is. It has some interesting ideas, like how Juliette counts (objects, seconds, breaths) to pass the time in her cell, a habit which carries through into her narrative. It’s written in the first person, as though you were actually in her head, and she’s very flighty, jumpy and indecisive. To demonstrate this, strikethroughs are sometimes used to demonstrate how she changes her mind over and over during the space of just a few seconds.

Both these are great ideas that add a certain uniqueness to the story… but enough is enough. They go on far, far too long. Using actual numbers (4 instead of ‘four,’ for example) will always look out of place in the middle of a paragraph and will completely break my concentration, however much you want to emphasise that the girl likes to count. We get it. Shut up.

The strikethroughs are actually more irritating and persist much longer. They’re not even part of the normal font; instead, they’ve gone to special effort to make it look handwritten. I completely agree that it adds to the manic tone and it fits Juliette’s character, but again, it breaks the flow and isn’t really necessary.

To me these two ideas summarise the essence of the book – gimmicky and difficult to focus upon.

The problem is, I understand the author is going for a stream of consciousness, babbling narrative, but I really struggled to read it. I ended up skimming even when I tried to pay attention. It’s written in a way that doesn’t require much skill at all – any flaws in your writing will be camouflaged by the surrounding ‘quirky’ errors. Seriously, use commas. It’s not hard.

Coincidentally, whilst I was reading this, I discovered the meaning of the phrase ‘purple prose,’ which apparently means ‘written prose that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.’ I swear those words were created for Shatter Me. It book tries so hard to sound arty and special that it ends up at the expense of coherence.

I don’t know if I’ve actually spoken or if I’m actually still sitting here or if I’m actually 14 years old all over again all over again all over again and I’m screaming and dying and diving into a pool of memories I never ever ever ever ever
I can’t seem to forget
I saw her at the grocery store. Her legs were standing crossed at the ankles, her child was on a leash she thought he thought was a backpack. She thought he was too dumb/too young/too immature to understand that the rope tying him to her wrist was a device designed to trap him in her uninterested circle of self-sympathy. She’s too young to have a kid, to have these responsibilities, to be buried by a child who has needs that don’t accomodate her own. Her life is so incredibly unbearable so immensely multifaceted too glamorous for the leashed legacy of her loins to understand.

There are no typos in the above quote. In my opinion, books can be arty and with beautiful prose… or not. Either way is fine, but mixing the two just doesn’t work. You can’t have a simple, fun story narrated by a babbling teenager (which isn’t a bad thing, before you call me a snob), but then remove grammar and introduce enough flowery metaphors to drown Shakespeare. It does not work.

SPOILERS BELOW

I also need to talk about the ending. It’s awful. Now, I’m the first to complain when people whine that such-and-such book has ‘like totally ripped off’ some other book/TV show/movie/whatever. There are a limited amount of stories around and sometimes there will be similarities.

Great. But Shatter Me IS X-Men. We’re not talking an odd likeness here and there. Juliette is alone and daren’t touch anybody and has therefore never loved. She ends up finding a whole bunch of friends just like her (but everybody has different powers) in a secret school/laboratory and they all run around in odd wetsuit-type costumes.

I want to bang my head against the desk SO HARD.

END OF SPOILERY RANT

Basically and concludingly, Shatter Me tries way too hard. I get what it was trying to do, but there are too many gimmicks and the ‘purple’ writing style just doesn’t work. It feels like the second book in a series, I think, not the first – as if the Revolution (or whatever) has already happened and she’s already been captured. It’s different from most other YA dystopian novels in that respect, at least. But the end result is that I feel like I’m missing a connection to Juliette and the story, as it just couldn’t hold my interest at all.

It doesn’t help that the ending is so different from the tone of the rest of the book and it was laughably ridiculous. It’s unlikely that I’ll read the rest of the series because I just don’t see it could go that I could be interested in.
    

For a more balanced review of Shatter Me, head over to A Tapestry of Words.

Comments

  1. Jess says:

    I think read this back during all the hype and I think it has lost something as other books with more intriguing concepts came along. I enjoyed as a dystopian but the ending did seem a little to X-men-ish and is why I'm not SUPER pressed to read the others.

    1. admin says:

      I'm not sure, because I actually did like the concept – the whole 'my touch is death' thing – I just thought it was executed really badly. It's not that it's been overshadowed by other books necessarily, it's that it just didn't deliver what it said on the tin! :p

  2. Riv says:

    I had pretty much the exact same experience with this book (which ended giving it 1 star and writing a super ranty review :p) I also thought this book tries too hard, and while it may work for others (there seem to be many people who like this book/series), it does not work for me. I also get what the author was trying to do with the number counting and strikethroughs, but it was very annoying after a little while. Stream of consciousness is something beautiful if done well, but in this case, it was not done well.

    And exactly the same complaint about the ending. All I could think of was "Come on!" and to whom I could give this book because I don't want it on my shelf. :p

    1. admin says:

      You've no idea how glad I am to hear (see?) you say that! I was beginning to think I was the only one who was annoyed by the strikethroughs. Like you said, I understood the idea, but it should have stopped doing it WAY earlier.

      I also agree about the stream of consciousness – I do really enjoy it in other books, but here it just didn't work. It was too frustrating to read.

      EXACTLY! I remember just looking at and going '…. really?' with a disdainful expression. It's not original (which can be okay) OR executed well (which is never okay).

  3. Ellie says:

    *Ironically strikes through this book on her wishlist* Thanks, that's one more YA novel I don't need to bother spending money on! 🙂

    1. Ellie says:

      P.S. Thanks for including that paragraph from the book as a demonstration. I could barely read from one end to the other without getting impatient and annoyed, so I REALLY couldn't stand a whole book like that. Very helpful…

    2. admin says:

      Oh, I know. I wrote down SO many page numbers to quote from, but that one really took the cake. Every time I look at it, it makes me a little bit angry, with that tight feeling in my stomach.

      It IS all like that though. Either that or 'I looked at the mysterious boy who treated me like crap AND I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.'

  4. Ellie Warren says:

    I think weird experimental stream on conciousness books work only as novellas (if they are written well). I don't mind runnign paragraphs for effect but this doesn't sound like it has enough else going for it. Like the Other Ellie, I'll be striking this off my wishlist. Thanks to your Public Service Announcement.

    1. admin says:

      I'm starting to feel bad about how many people I've convinced NOT to buy this…. but then I reread the quote I posted and feel much more justified.

  5. Etudesque says:

    blah, strikethroughs are fine for blogs, but novels where you have to deal with pages of them? forget it!

  6. I'm out too – let's add this to the ever-growing list of books that you have read so that I don't have to!

    I basically just agree with what both Ellies said – the strikethroughs a cute idea but it was annoying and I just really, really don't want to subject myself to that. I was actually really keen to read this a while ago but I think you texted/tweeted me while you were reading it because I knew that I didn't want to read it because you hated it and it's been off the wishlist for a while!

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