Twofer Review: Shatter Me & Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
One of my favorite things about the book blogging world is that sometimes it gives me the shove I need to read books I would have normally passed up. Such is the case of Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me, which came highly recommended by the lovely Angie, whose taste is very similar to my own.
Frankly, I'd assumed that the Shatter Me series was yet another in a long series of dystopian copycats that are just okay. (I'm looking at you, Divergent, Legend, Delirium, et al.) However, to my surprise, I was absolutely sucked into the--and I mean this in a good way--absolute weirdness of the writing style and narration.
Juliette has spent her teen years locked away in a prison because her touch is fatal--she's killed before. Her family has shunned her and the system doesn't care about her. So she sits in a cell. Alone. Abandoned.
All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.
She frantically scribbles her semi-maniacal thoughts in a journal, until one day, she's no longer by herself. A new prisoner is locked up in her cell--it's Adam a boy from her past who has secrets of his own.
Eventually (intentional vagueness here to avoid spoilage), the story's location shifts to the compound of the regional government, where the young madman Warner, hopes to figure out how to use Juliette's power for his own destructive purposes.
In both Shatter Me and its sequel, Unravel Me, Warner steals many of the scenes.
He's a rare YA "bad guy" who's complex, multi-layered and--in the second book--disturbingly sympathetic. He's obsessive and straight-up crazy, but there's something compelling about his characterization. Part of this is because the world is just so messed up around him, so while Warner is a nutjob, he's not all the much crazier than everyone else who has any measure of power. (A reality which becomes more clear in Unravel Me.) Call me crazy, but I love watching crazy unfold when it's done very, very well.
I don't really get into the whole "teams" thing, especially in YA (sorry, but, ewwww), but I can see why there's a strong contingent of Warner fans, because there is something so compelling about his brokenness. Though, I'm not convinced that he's equipped to have a fully functional relationship of any sort.
But then, more than anything else, I’ve found I don’t hate Warner as much as I thought I did. I feel sorry for him. He finds a strange sort of solace in my company; he thinks I can relate to him and his twisted notions, his cruel upbringing, his absent and simultaneously demanding father. But he never says a word about his mother.
Which brings me to the love interest: Adam. While--like nearly all of the characters in this world--he has an agenda, he's one of the better love interests in the crowded field of YA dystopian novels. He's the first person who doesn't see Juliette as a freak and a threat and a "thing" that needs to either be controlled or exploited. Juliette and Adam's lust (it really starts out as lust--they don't know each other well enough for it to be "like") is relatively intense for a YA novel, and it makes sense within the context of Juliette's situation. She's been deprived of physical contact with other people for so, so long that just being near someone who isn't repulsed but her is a powerful thing.
Which really points to the core issue that many readers will find problematic--Shatter Me and Unravel Me are primarily dystopian romances.
While the second novel features far more action and exploration of the world, Juliette's relationship with Adam and disturbed attraction to Warner is the center of this story through the first two books. This means that the world-building is is on the light side, to say the least.
The reader is told that the earth has suffered from environmental destruction and that food supplies are meager, that a global network of power-hunger zealots known as The Reestablishment have promised to restore order and provide for the citizens. That's pretty much it in the first book. Now, I'll talk about this in a minute, but I do think it's somehow excusable, given Juliette's isolation--we only know what she knows.
Unravel Me shifts locales into the world of the underground resistance, and we do learn more about the outside world, how it got that way and the volatile politics pervading the world. It's still not all that substantive, and will definitely bother some readers. (I will say that I think the world-building is better than in the Divergent series, which has absolutely nonsensical development of the society and world and it's lightyears ahead of the WTF society in the Delirium books.)
Which brings me to another thing that will either really work, or really not work for a lot of folks: the writing style.
My eyes are 2 professional pickpockets, stealing everything to store away in my mind
Both books are written in a frenetic, stream-of-consciousness, quasi-journal style that's laden with metaphor (many of which involve butter), strikethroughs and prose oozing purple.
He’s wrong he’s so wrong he’s more wrong than an upside-down rainbow
However, it feels intentional. The writing has a weird, uncontrolled rhythm which I read as intentional, as a metaphor for Juliette's condition. This is somewhat tempered through most of the second novel, until the chaos and action take over and it re-emerges with a vengeance.
I liked the weird writing, and that really surprised me, since that's what originally kept me away from Shatter Me. It's distinctive and the oddness is executed consistently (if it had veered from this bizarre course at all, the books would have been really jarring).
Both Shatter Me and Unravel Me were unexpectedly enjoyable reads for me--there's a thoroughly entertaining mix of romance and action that riveted me. Plus, it has an X-Men vibe and we all know about my love for that particular franchise--it's my Kryptonite, forever and always.
Cheap Book Alert: Shatter Me is currently discounted to $2.99 at the usual ebook retailers.