Shatter Me

Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi I’d avoided reading “Shatter Me” for a while for a couple of reasons. One, hype tends to annoy me, and two, I’d read a sample and laughed for about five minutes straight. Much has been said about the prosaic style of the novel, which favours dramatic turns of phrase and extremely creative metaphors. While I can understand to an extent what Mafi was trying to do, and I give her huge thumbs up for trying something new in the genre, ultimately it fails because it’s just too much. What should be a natural part of storytelling becomes distracting and confusing. There were phrases where I had to go back and re-read them three or four times because I honestly had no idea what she was saying. I knew what all the individual words meant but when put together they just boggled my mind. One particularly baffling example that stuck in my mind comes on page 26 of the paperback edition:“I hate the lackadaisical ennui of a sun too preoccupied with itself to notice the infinite hours we spend in its presence. The sun is an arrogant thing, always leaving the world when it tires of us.”When I was in primary school, we did a language class (what we called English) on similes, metaphors and alliterations. Once we understood what those terms actually meant, we were instructed to come up with our own versions. Of course, being show-off kids with wild imaginations, we went nuts with the concept and came up with some particularly dramatic examples. I wish I could remember some of my work because I’m sure Mafi would have enjoyed some of it. There’s no editorial control over this prose, and it desperately needs some. It turns what should be tension into melodrama that veers dangerously close to camp. I love the camp aesthetic but it’s just not going to work in what is supposed to be a dystopian action drama. Incidentally, the drama and action are somewhat lacking because, surprise surprise, “Shatter Me” quickly becomes more interested in romance than anything else. To be more accurate, it’s more interested in sex. The entire book, and from what I understand about the sequel, seems preoccupied with sex in a manner that reminds me of the post-Twilight paranormal romance YA trend. Juliette’s touch causes infinite pain and eventually death, yet she conveniently finds two men who are resistant to her powers. Neither is particularly well developed beyond emotionally tortured but noble hero and psychotic baddie with mother issues, although the latter has some Bond villain style moments that helped to lift the mood somewhat. It’s obvious that a love/sex triangle is being set up here, and the book is pretty head-on in its depiction of sexual attraction. The breeding pair of Juliette & Adam never actually have sex (of course) but there is something refreshing about seeing a YA pair ready to get it on without some unknown and utterly ridiculous power holding them back. The big problem here is the addition of Warner. He’s indisputably the villain of the tale. He shoots a man in the head in front of Juliette, makes her torture a toddler, and is intensely relaxed about having people tortured, beaten and killed without a second thought. He’s really not love triangle material, particularly since he seems more determined to own Juliette like a pet than treat her as an equal. Unfortunately, he’s also the only character in the entire novel with anything vaguely resembling a personality or a 3 dimensional character. Juliette is essentially Anna Paquin’s version of Rogue from the X Men series, only with a half-completed creative writing class under her belt, and Adam was so forgettable that I had to look up his name before writing this review. Their relationship seems entirely built on two things. One, she can touch him without him dying (which, admittedly, does help with many relationships), and two, he was vaguely nice to her in primary school. There’s no tension to this romance because we know exactly how it’s going to fall out. All their conversations follow a path towards the next plot point, and there’s no development between the pair or any reason given as to why we should care about them or root for them. This is a big problem since the author is far more concerned with the romance than any other part of the story.The world-building is pretty much non-existent. The world started going to pot for several reasons and a totalitarian group called the Reestablishment stepped in to sort things out. That’s about it. The post-apocalyptic regime is evil and that’s that. Don’t ask questions! I had no idea what this world looked like, how it operated, why it was the way it was, or what the hell was going on. It’s only in the final 10% of the story or so that things begin to go anywhere, and then it veers into very familiar territory. If you’ve read X-Men comics or seen the movies, you’ll have seen this all before. There’s a special hidden school for people with special talents, and they all wear skin-tight suits. Juliette has a deadly touch and super strength when the plot calls for it. The book’s version of Professor Xavier has the exact same powers as him. It’s actually all rather irritating when you read it because you’ve seen this story before and it was so much better than this is. Mafi claimed that she hadn’t seen or read X-Men until after her book was finished. It may very well be a huge coincidence, but for readers familiar with the classic comics, TV series & movies, “Shatter Me” may well ring a little too familiar.There’s just so much about “Shatter Me” that feels like wasted potential. It’s a book that tries so hard to be unique in its prose and yet manages to be so dull in every other aspect. It’s a dull as dishwater romance stuck in the middle of an X-Men fan-fiction. On a dystopian level, I struggle to even categorise it as such, despite the huge publicity campaigns telling me so. It’s too sketchy in its development to be anything truly gripping or interesting. For all the flourish and dramatics of the prose, “Shatter Me” is just boring. It simultaneously tries too hard and not hard enough, more concerned with a cardboard cut-out romance than the tension and thrills suggested by its high-concept story. I’ve seen many bloggers, including several of my friends, just fawn over this work, and I can understand on some level why the prose would appeal to them, but I was just not invested in this one at all, and by the looks of it, a lot of readers weren’t either.