Well, that was terrible.
I picked up Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi, 2011) as I’d heard of it on the BookTubes was interested in the plot. I wish I could remember exactly what it was that sounded interesting to me because it was clear from nearly page one that this book was not my jam (nor my peanut butter, nor my jelly, nor my peanuts). Possible spoilers below if you’ve never, you know, read a book with a plot before.
Shatter Me follows Juliette Ferrars as she is imprisoned after accidentally killing a boy with her touch. Adam Kent is sent in to, ostensibly, be her cellmate, but it’s soon revealed that he’s a soldier for the Reestablishment and he’s been sent in to make sure Juliette follows orders. (Oh, and he’s in love with her, natch.) It’s a decent enough idea. A girl with a condition that drains the lifeforce out of everyone she touches is captured to be used as a means of torturing dissenting soldiers and civilians. Well, it would be a decent enough idea if X-Men hadn’t come up with it first decades ago. Juliette is essentially Rogue in this dystopian war time, which means that there is not one original thought in this entire book. Shatter Me is little more than X-Men fanfic.
I can forgive a recycled plot if the author tells it in a new or particularly interesting way, but Mafi does neither. There is far too much information dumped into characters’ exposition. There is no reason for them to relate to each other what’s happening in their world – they should already know it. Her writing will appeal to those who are fans of Twilight, with its ridiculous descriptions that pander to an emotionally immature audience with childlike desires in place of intellect. With such zingers as “‘Juliette.’
One soft word and my joints are made of air,” when Adam says her name, and, “His lips his lips his lips his lips his lips,” (yes, that’s a direct quote) Mafi writes with the voice of an immature adolescent who has never experienced sex or love, but who has spent endless afternoons speculating on what they might be like.
I found Mafi’s use of strikethrough font, as in the above quote, distracting and not at all inventive. Instead of allowing the reader to infer the meaning behind Juliette’s words, she literally spells it out for us. There is no opportunity for irony or sarcasm or fear in those words because Mafi apparently believes her readers are not sophisticated enough to pick up on this. Likewise, she feels the need to explain every ounce of symbolism to the reader, as in the case of Omega Point, the Charles Xavier-like institution where other “gifted” individuals are brought to develop their talent. “The last letter in the Greek alphabet. The final development, the last in a series,” she writes. How about you just call it Omega Point and trust that your readers will look it up if they’re curious? That Mafi explains every last detail shows a lack of faith in her audience. The mark of a good young adult writer – or, really, any writer – is not that you ensure you are 100% understood, but that your audience grows and learns through your writing. I abhor authors who talk down to me. This is not why I read.
I would not recommend Shatter Me to anyone. It is a terribly written, naive romance riding on the coattails of the current dystopian fiction wave. There is a place for intelligence and maturity and, yes, even the complexities of sex and love in young adult fiction. None of that can be found here.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read the first book in a series by a person of color, read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel]