Shatter Me is the much anticipated debut novel of US author Tahereh Mafi. The first book in a projected trilogy, it provides an intense mix of dystopian fantasy and young adult romance with a superhuman twist. While it may seem a mean feat to live up to the hype generated for this release, with the large media campaign and the film rights already sold, Mafi’s debut does a decent job of it. With an interesting premise and a deft execution, Shatter Me is a undoubtedly a rung above your average paranormal teen romance.
Shatter Me takes place in a post-apocalyptic near future where the sky is scorched, food is scarce, and the human population has been decimated by disease. Most survivors live in closed compounds ruled by an oppressive organization known as the Reestablishment. Amidst all the chaos the world seems to have forgotten about Juliette, a seventeen year old girl who is locked away in an institution for a murder she didn’t mean to commit. For unknown reasons, Juliette’s touch causes severe pain and may be fatal if maintained for any extended period of time. While this marks her as a freak, shunned by society and cast aside by her parents, there are those in the Reestablishment that think her strange power may be useful. However, Juliette is less than willing to become anyone’s weapon.
An engaging tale with a unique style
First of all, I should probably say that young adult paranormal romance is usually a subgenre I avoid. Thus I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. This may be due to the fact that Shatter Me is quite fast paced and a little more intense than the majority of young adult fiction I’d read. In fact, this book is quite a page turner. Although the plot isn’t extremely complicated, it is very well executed and I found it engaging enough to hold my interest to the point where I finished it in one sitting.
The unusual writing style is also worth mentioning. The story is told in the first person, through the eyes of the protagonist Juliette, and in the present tense, adding a sense of familiarity and urgency to the narrative. Furthermore, Juliette hasn’t emerged unscathed from her experiences; she is a damaged and conflicted character with a number of quirks. For instance, as a result of her incarceration, she is obsessed with numbers and minute details which she faithfully recounts to the reader. The prose is also rich in metaphors and imagery, presumably as Juliette has spent so much time alone with nothing but her own imagination for company. Thoughts that she represses or doesn’t want to admit to appear as cross-outs. Personally, I found that these stylistic alterations add to the unique flavor of the text and help make the reading an interesting and engaging experience. Nevertheless, this is a matter of taste and some readers may find this jarring or think that it detracts from the story itself.
Great characters and a steamy romance
The characters themselves are imperfect and relatable, displaying various strengths and weaknesses as they struggle to survive in an inhospitable world. Despite Juliette’s tribulations and near-crippling insecurities, she is no hapless victim and is willing to stand up for herself and what she believes in. Little more can be said without spoiling the story, but I was also glad to see the female protagonist acting the hero for a change. The antagonist Warner is also a standout character—intense, depraved and frightening while remaining believably three dimensional.
The romantic aspects of the novel are also very well done, and rather steamy compared to those in most young adult fiction, perfectly conveying a sense of urgent passion and repressed sensuality. I would usually be a little sceptical of such a sudden, intense romance between two characters that had never met before, so I was glad to see Juliette and Adam’s history explained to lend their connection some credibility. Thankfully, there is also far too much going on in this world for anyone to indulge inexcessive teen brooding or tedious lovelorn moping.
Yet some questions remain…
That’s not to say that Shatter Me is perfect or that it will suit every reader. For instance, the worldbuilding throughout the novel is relatively sparse and many elements are left only partially explained. We are never really told how the world reached its sorry state, although it is hinted that it deteriorated quickly and that society crumbled with it. Although this lack of worldbuilding is understandable, given that the characters were relatively confined for most of the book, I am quite interested in the answers to these questions and hope that Mafi will expand upon her creation in the next instalments. In addition, although it’s largely irrelevant, I though the finished cover art was an unusual choice that didn’t really suit the tone of the novel.
Why should you read this book?
Shatter Me is a unique and well executed dystopian young adult novel that should appeal to a wide range of readers. I would recommend it to fans of post-apocalyptic fiction or anyone looking for a quality paranormal romance with more action and better characterization than most. Overall, this is an extremely promising first instalment in a series and an impressive debut. I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more about this talented young author in the future.