Friday, 18 November 2011

Friday Fiction - Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Many of you out there in the blogging world may already know Ms Mafi and her wonderful blog or her Twitter escapades (@taherehmafi). You can also find her on her website.

Well, her first book has just come out and I'm thrilled to announce that I

  1. pre-ordered it
  2. received it on Wednesday
  3. read it on Wednesday, in the bath, oblivious to the fact that the water had gone cold around me
  4. LOVED IT and yet....
  5. and am now reviewing it
You should probably know that I always read books all the way through before giving the review any depth of thought at all. I read it, liked it, then thought about the details and this is what I came up with...

(carefull spoilers ahead!)

Published:  15th November 2011, Harper Collins 

Source:  pre-ordered off Amazon

Blurb/book description (as per Amazon):

"You can't touch me," I whisper.
I'm lying, is what I don't tell him.
He can touch me, is what I'll never tell him.
But things happen when people touch me.
Strange things.
Bad things.
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.


"You can't touch me" 
Juliette, at various points in the book

What I thought: 

First of all: I absolutely had to finish it. That's aways a good thing - but then again, it was rather easy to read through it in one go. I did like it. But...

Well. Compared to other dystopian YA novels out there, Ms Mafi's book stands out in style, but not necessarily in plot. I was thinking X-Men through a lot of it (there's a girl that can't touch anyone in there, right?). The idea is a great one, and the book starts off great, too, but I did find it somewhat lacking in depth. 

I'm of two minds as to the style used - strike-throughs and numbers and sentences that are pretty much stream-of-thought for Juliette, or perhaps diary entries (first person present, in case you were wondering). On the one hand, it eminently fits Juliette and lets you see her as she is, but on the other, it is a bit odd. I kinda liked it, but it took some reading to get to the point where I didn't consciously notice the oddities anymore, just the story and the mood created. To be fair, this kind of "gimmick"(as one reviewer called it) seems to be quite fashionable right now. About as fashionable as distopian YA novels, I guess. I'm not - in general - a fan of those (I didn't like The Hunger Games, either), but I know many people are (more about that in What I thought of the Setting).  

What I thought of the characters: 

Juliette's mind is a little shattered, much like the title, and it's reflected in the way she tells the story (that's the style thing I'm of two minds about). I'm not entirely sure I like her, though. While she's well drawn, I had the impression she sort of floated through the story, emotionally speaking. She does pull herself together a bit by the end, which is good - she's much more convincing at the end than at the beginning. 

So she got abandoned by her parents - that wasn't really explained to my satisfaction, and I'd have liked to be clearer on the timeline of what happened. She was bullied in school, then there was that incident with the kid that put her in government hands and outed her lethal touch? Or the other way around, but then why was she suddenly given away by her parents? When, exactly, did people find out about her 'talent'? Maybe the (inevitable, given the end) sequel will clear that up. 

And the actual touch thing? She's so afraid of it - everyone's so afraid of it they lock her away for 264 days without touch - that it overpowers pretty much everything else she may feel/think. I know that's probably the point but after a while it bothered me that she didn't seem capable of focusing on anything other than that and how nice Adam is/isn't. 

And Adam is nice. He's the love interest, and he can touch her, too (YAY for love). And he appears to be on her side.... then not...then yes...well, let's say it's a major plot point. 

Then there's the bad guy, Warner. He's actually the best-drawn and most convincing of the characters, and I kind of liked him, in a twisted sort of way. He's both the major villain of the piece (Reestablishment aside) and, at the same time, the major rival for Adam. At least in theory - the idea is there but the setup on Juliette's side is lacking. Who knows, maybe there'll be some redeemable features to him in the sequel that will give this kind of plotline more credibility. 

For comic relief (of a sort) there's Kenji, who makes a brief (insulting) appearance early on and then comes back later. He makes (sometimes tasteless) jokes, comes on to Juliette, and turns out to have a bit of information they really, really need. Uhm yea.

What I thought of the setting: 

This book is dystopian, yes, but only in a very schematic way. General dystopian features are there (they're hungry, government wants control, book burning, etc) but it's not really convincing and at times a little too preacher-y for my tastes. But then I'm not a fan of dystopian fiction anyhow, so maybe I'm not the best judge. 

The start-up setting - the cell - was well thought out, though it appeared a little large to be truly intimidating (they fit two beds in there, didn't they?). Then there's the going-to-the-shower scene that seemed kind of pointless if to me. So what happened if she wasn't fast enough? Why make her go there in darkness? I guess it was supposed to build up the intimidation of the "prison" but it lacked something for that in my opinion. 

The last bit, the bit 'opposition' to the Reestablishment, seemed somewhat contrived. What, they've always been there? Why not act earlier? Or did I misunderstand and this really is some resistance movement rather than a kind of we-are-the-last-of-mankind place where all the "gifted" and their hangers-on end up, protected from the Reestablishment? Again, I have hopes for the sequel...

What I think you should consider: 

If you're a huge dystopian YA fantasy fan, go ahead and buy this. It's easy to read (once you get past the stylistic stuff) and certainly light entertainment. It's mainly romance, though, not so much dystopian society going on. Maybe this will be revealed in a sequel - which, judging by the end of the book, will have to come eventually. If you really, really don't like not having things explained, maybe wait for the sequel and then read them together. 

If you liked The Hunger Games, you may like this book, but don't expect quite so complex a society here. The dystopian setting is just that, a setting, and not a pseudo-character like it is in The Hunger Games or similar books. The setting could just as easily be the 'ordinary world'.

All in all, though, I liked Tahereh Mafi's debut novel, and if you like YA romantic fantasy, do go ahead and have a read.  

Quite apart from all that, do go visit her blog, it's fantastic. 


6 out of 10 cupcakes...

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