Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I’ve been excited to read Shatter Me since I first read a blurb earlier this year. Oddly enough, I believe the reviewer actually sat in the “hate it” camp, so while I was aware early on of the largely contrasting views amidst bloggers, it only made me that much more eager to judge it for myself. While I accede many of the complaints that reviewers have made regarding Mafi’s writing style, I nonetheless quite enjoyed this first book in the Shatter Me series.

The single most heralded attribute of this novel is also the largest complaint that many readers have. Mafi’s writing style is distinctive, I’ll give her that. As the story opens, protagonist Juliette has been imprisoned in isolation for 264 days. Her narration flows like free verse, blocking out pages with abundant description and repeated rethinking of word choice. Nearly every other sentence is crossed out, though whether we are to find greater truth in these rephrased portions or in their replacements, Mafi never clarifies. Juliette’s voice undoubtedly serves as the anchor for the first half of the story. As she struggles to comprehend the events that unfold, to discern who she can trust, and whether she can even trust herself,

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette’s narration focuses largely on sensory experiences. Mafi’s word choice appears very deliberate; Juliette experiences things in metaphors and hyperbolic adjectives. Mafi compounds this linguistic effect with numerous run-on sentences and idiosyncracies. Back in grade school, I used to scorn grading rubrics that imposed confines on my grammatical choices. I already knew all of the proper rules, and yet while the authors I loved were able to defy these rules when they so desired in the name of artistic liberty, I was forced to adhere to them. While Juliette’s unique voice was the selling point of Shatter Me for me, unfortunately, I believe that Mafi’s artistic choices exemplified too much of a good thing and proved my English teacher’s point.

In theory, Mafi’s decision to infuse Juliette’s voice with such vibrant language could have served to make her a standout among YA heroines whose musings often border on the ponderous or ambivalent. In reality, Juliette’s voice is simply too much to bear. I believe this lies partly in insufficient explanation. Mafi tells readers of Juliette’s background, of the fact that her parents didn’t want her and that she had no friends, yet by giving us the bare facts from present-day Juliette’s perspective, we never fully grasp how much of her personality is a result of her imprisonment versus an extension of her early developmental years in an unnurturing environment. If it is merely an effect of her imprisonment (as is suggested by the fact that the crossed-out portions diminish greatly in the second half), is two-hundred plus days of solitude enough to alter one’s thought patterns so fundamentally? On the other hand, if her voice is in fact a result not of her two-hundred days of confinement, but rather seventeen years of effective solitude due to others’ fear of her power, what are we to make of her unique manner of expression? Is it a sign of strength that she has managed to cope despite her unfavorable circumstances, or weakness that her brain operates in such a distinctive way?

Though Mafi’s usage of language comes across as quite intentional, when you actually contemplate the particular phrases she uses, the narrative devolves into an incomprehensible mishmash of mixed metaphors. So, too, is her excessive use of adjectives flawed in her word choices. What exactly is a “punctured shadow?” I believe Mafi thinks she has a better grasp of language than she actually does. She describes one of the characters as “excited and nervous all the time. He’s a walking oxymoron,” yet these terms aren’t actually oxymorons- not even close- and so I’m not sure where she is seeing the oxymoron. There’s a reason most authors use literary devices sparingly. The impact is muted by repeat exposure. Thus, the visceral sympathy of a statement like “Adam finds me curled into a ball on the shower floor. I’ve been crying for so long I’m certain the hot water is made of nothing but my tears” is lost as white noise. (And yes, I’m aware of the hypocrasy of my own use of metaphor). Another critique that isn’t as serious as those previously mentioned yet that bothered me nonetheless is Juliette’s habit of using digits rather than spelling out numbers. We are never given any indication why she does this, and so it is left as an unexplained and unnecessary piece to a puzzle that we no longer need to solve once we determine that she is not insane.

As excited as I was for the promise behind the premise of the first half, Mafi’s idea didn’t quite pan out. Fortunately, the story picks up a bit in the second half as the action becomes more intense and we are introduced to a few secondary characters who I hope Mafi takes to time to flesh out in the next installment. Bear in mind, Mafi doesn’t break any new ground in the YA dystopian field; as the story progresses, is soon becomes apparent that the journey will be achingly similar to many dystopian and superhero tales that have come before. Still, Mafi manages to make the trip enjoyable if not terribly original. I do hope that she resists the temptation to unveil certain “good” characters as evil later on in the series. It’s been done before and so feels more trite than complex when I come across this plot twist nowadays. And while the ending clearly establishes this as the first installment in an arc, thankfully it doesn’t present a cliffhanger. Juliette’s progression is fulfillment enough at this point, so while most major plotlines are still up in the air, the conclusion is nevertheless satisfying enough to preclude withdrawal symptoms until the next book is released.

Reflecting on the characters themselves, there isn’t a lot to write home about. Juliette is essentially a Mary Sue in a designer straight jacket which she shrugs off within the first hundred pages. She’s not vapid, but neither does she have the spunk of Katniss. Adam is unfortunately a cardboard love interest stand-in, not the worst I’ve come across by any means, but he offers very little as an independent character. His purpose is clearly to serve as a reflection of Juliette’s best qualities, to reaffirm her goodness and purpose, to remind readers of the cruelty of the new regime, and to provide a few sympathetic moments when interacting with his younger brother. Mafi is going to have to work to beef up the romantic plotline past the standard fated lovers fare, and I believe she has the means to do so.

Overall, I wasn’t nearly as offended by Mafi’s writing style as many have been, but I didn’t find it an attribute either. She’s created the barebones of a world that I actually want to continue reading about, but she’ll have to up the ante to retain my interest in the next book. This calls for more attention to worldbuilding in particular, as the majority in this book was conferred through info-dumping. Still, I’ll be around for the release of novella Destroy Me in October and second book Unravel Me next year.

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

I recently read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, so this week I’m curious about the next two stories in her series, Destroy Me and Unravel Me.

Here are the summaries for the first two, taken from Goodreads:

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting asThe Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices,Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

Destroy Me

Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi

Perfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel Me, Destroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

While I liked Shatter Me, I didn’t fall in love as so many reviewers have. My review, which will go up later this week, will cover all the ins and outs of my thoughts regarding Juliette as a character and Mafi’s writing style. I’m also not completely sold on the new covers, but perhaps my feeling for both will change once I continue with the series.

Shatter Me will be released in paperback on October 2, 2012.

Destroy Me will be released on October 2, 2012.

Unravel Me will be released on February 5, 2013.

“Waiting On” Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a meme created at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming releases that we can’t wait to read.

This week I’m reluctantly curious about Sever by Lauren DeStefano.

Sever by Lauren DeStefano

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

What if you knew exactly when you would die? In the not-too-distant future, genetic engineering has turned every newborn into a ticking time bomb — males only live to age 25 and females only live to age 20.
In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out. When 16-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by “the Gatherers” to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Rhine has only one purpose after she has been married to her new husband, Linden: to escape and find her twin brother.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden’s eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant to whom she is dangerously attracted, Rhine is desperate to learn the truth and protect those closest to her. But, as her sister wife Cecily keeps insisting, her role may be much bigger than that.
In the first two books of the Chemical Garden trilogy, Wither and Fever, Rhine struggles to escape the mansion and then to navigate the brutal world outside. Now in Sever, the third and final book, Rhine uncovers some shattering truths about the past that her parents never had the chance to tell her and the alarming implications regarding her own genes. She may be the one who can save the human race.

While I enjoyed Wither, I felt the series really lost steam with Fever. However, I’m interested enough to stick around and see how things play out. The cover was just released yesterday. Thoughts? Personally, I’m rather mystified by the bright colors; it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the series, but I’m sure there’s some symbolism that I’m missing.

This title will be released on February 12, 2013.

Meandering Around the Interweb

In my various hours of wandering through book blogs far and wide, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic posts lately, so I thought I would spotlight my favorites. Hopefully I can make this a semi-regular feature, although my laziness will test the bounds of my determination to do so, so stay tuned for now.

While I’m drowning in the tears that can only be brought on by The Reichenbach Fall, perhaps I’ll drink away my sorrows with some of these delightful Sherlock blend teas. I’m particularly curious to try Moriartea.

Heroes and Heartbreakers had some interesting television news this week. Apparently, come fall we will have a new Beauty and the Beast adaptation, this time with an update of the classic 80’s TV show. I can’t help but be rather disappointed with the trailer (and not only because I was an adamant Lana hater during the Smallville years). I’m sorry, but a little facial scar does not a beast make, especially when the monstrous attitude is replaced with a penchant for altruism. From the snippets we get here, it looks like he might become a tad more beastly when he’s in angry mode…but, no, wait- scratch that, he’s still handsome. Oh, well. At least we still have time to hope that the Anne of Green Gables modern update is better. But honestly, I’ll take Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie any day.

The Piper’s Son happens to be my favorite Melina Marchetta, and Kat Kennedy over at the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog recently wrote a wonderful review that expresses all the reasons I love this book more eloquently than I could. In other Marchetta-related news, according to Goodreads, the fourth book in the Lumatere Chronicles has a name, and it’s…Ferragost. Thoughts? Do you think this the official title, as it doesn’t really fit in with the first three.

There’s some interesting discussion of late about just what dystopian actually means, and how it differs from post-apocalyptic fic.

I’m guaranteed to track down this Princess Bride-inspired wine pack for my next dinner party. And don’t worry, according to the website, the Inconceivable Cab holds no traces of iocane powder.

I can’t help but love reading Amber at Down the Rabbit Hole’s reactions to recently completing her first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While I don’t agree with everything in her post about why Buffy and Spike are meant to be, she makes some good points nonetheless. I’m even more interested to hear what she has to say about her foray into the world of Season 8 comics, as I’ve abstained from them myself. Personally, I love how Whedon ended the show, and while I’m somewhat intrigued by what I’ve read of the comic continuation, I’m also too apprehensive to delve in myself.

The world lost a wonderful writer last week. As always, Neil Gaiman’s words regarding the love he held for Ray Bradbury’s work are beautifully poignant and a lovely tribute.

A Spell of Vengeance by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been salivating for D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker since spotting the gorgeous Chris McGrath cover last year, and was so excited to receive an advance copy from NetGalley. The short story, “A Spell of Vengeance,” written for Tor.com makes me all the more excited to read it this weekend.

Once again, the scientific community has made a discovery that has gone shockingly unremarked-upon by the general populace. Bulgarian archaeologists have uncovered human remains from the Middle Ages with iron stakes protruding from their chests. These skeletons serve as evidence of actual vampire hunting back in the day. Beware, ye squeamish; the link leads to some relatively graphic images.

Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews had a Twitter battle on behalf of their respective heroes, Bones and Curran. I think this speaks for itself.

Lynn Flewelling has written a short story in which Seregil from her Nightrunner series and Bast from Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind have a cage fight. I’ve never actually read Rothfuss (I know, I’m getting on it), but regardless, my money’s on Seregil every time.

And possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen, Super Mercado has graced the world with Game of Thrones of Muppets. While they’re all super clever and fit in with the real cast surprisingly well, I think I stopped breathing when my eyes landed on Petyr Beakish and Dr. Varys Honeydew.

Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I’ve just set this book aside after having turned the last page, and I’m struggling to synthesize my feelings toward the story overall. On the one hand, I don’t feel that this book is nearly as strong as Roth’s debut, but on strength of writing alone, I feel uncomfortable giving the book anything less than a four. Since this is the same rating I gave to its predecessor, Divergent, I’m not altogether certain if this is an accurate reflection of Roth’s sophomore effort, but it’s what I’m sticking with nonetheless.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I picked up Divergent last year without knowing much about it beforehand and so was pleasantly surprised to find that it achieved the feat of providing a believable dystopian plot without succumbing to the gratuitous bleakness that often clings to the genre. Tris was a strong heroine whose merits shone despite her faults rather than without them. It was easy to root for her because her choices, her thought processes, her maturation earned my respect. Thus, it was with a heavy heart that I slogged through Insurgent only to find traces of the character that I had previously admired. I believe my main problem with Tris’s characterization in this installment isn’t that it marked such a stark departure from her previous persona; in the aftermath of the events she witnessed and unwillingly perpetrated, it is understandable that she would need a little time to assimilate her feelings. Whereas the Tris of Divergent was remarkable because she was able to push past her own fears and misgivings, I could forgive her a temporary lapse into self-indulgence or incompetence after the actions she is forced to take. Yet, the reason I had such difficulty reconciling the Tris of the second installment with that of the first was due in large part to the fact that Tris didn’t begin to exhibit any signs of  weakness until Insurgent began. Had Roth hinted a bit at Tris’s vulnerability in this regard as Divergent wound down, it would have seemed believable, yet I can’t help but think that Tris’s character progression was decided after Roth had already finished writing the first book.

Compounding my frustration with Tris’s personality turn for the worse is the fact that she succumbs to that hated device of failure to communicate. Unfortunately for readers, she is not alone in this error, as Roth insists upon altering Four’s personality as well so that he and Tris spend the majority of the story running deceptive, distrustful circles around each other. For two people who supposedly epitomize bravery, they are infuriatingly incapable of taking the scary step toward trust. Roth succeeds in maintaining my interest in her secondary cast of characters, yet by novel’s end I found myself struggling to identify which side everyone stood for. The book features so many double-crosses and ulterior motives that it becomes tedious at times and, worst of all, feels manufactured in a way that contrasts with Divergent’s refreshing simplicity.

Overall, while Insurgent held my interest throughout and certainly never lacked for action, I felt that it was something of a mess structurally. Obviously, Roth had to find a way to further the story without the initiation as a backdrop, and visiting the different factions that weren’t highlighted in Divergent was a clever way of doing so. Yet, the continual back and forth among locations came across as somewhat sloppy. While I always understood what was going on, I nevertheless found that the narrative thread was lost so that, despite understanding the developments in each individual scene, I never had a sense of where the overarching story was going. This might be fitting, and even desirable, under different circumstances, but where as here it seemed an unintentional consequence of poorly planned plot structure, I think it was a detriment.

Still, despite my complaints, I can’t say that Roth’s second novel suffered from sophomore book syndrome. Her story is still engaging, her characters sympathetic despite their flaws, and, thankfully, her plot devoid of any hint of a love triangle heading into the final installment. I’ll definitely be around to see how Tris and Four’s story concludes next year.

Book Beginnings on Fridays

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted at Rose City Reader designed to feature the book you are reading right now by sharing the first few lines of the story.

Today I’m reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth.

“I wake with his name in my mouth.”

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I’m approaching the final portion of the book, and I’m a bit conflicted about it. Perhaps if I hadn’t reread Divergent in preparation, I would be more confident in my feelings toward Insurgent. Then again, I’m not sure the novel would have made the necessary emotional impact had I not refreshed my acquaintance with the characters and setting beforehand. As it is, I’m stranded in that nowhere land where I feel ungracious  giving the book anything less than a four-cup rating, yet conflicted since I don’t feel that it lives up to its predecessor. Hopefully I’ll be able to articulate my concerns more fully when I’ve finished the novel and had a chance to wrestle with my thoughts before reviewing it.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth’s much-anticipated second book of the dystopian Divergent series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays is a meme started over on Should Be Reading that presents a different literary-themed question every week.

This week’s question is: What are you currently reading? And, is it better, as good as, or worse than your last read?

I’m in between books at the moment, but I did just finish The Hunger Games trilogy, the first two of which were rereads for me. I reviewed them here, in large part as a response to having just seen the movie. I thought it would be interesting to read them again after having seen it visually, especially since I only got around to reading The Hunger Games and Catching Fire on the first go around. I’m glad I waited until after watching the movie to reread the books, because I’m sure I would have been unbearably nitpicking about all of the tiny details they had changed otherwise. As it was, I was actually quite impressed by the film adaptation; though it had been four years since I read the first book, overall, the movie played out nearly exactly as I remembered experiencing it in my head while reading. Of course, there were some big departures that I discovered upon revisiting the book, but I didn’t feel that they were significant enough to alter the story fundamentally and thought that many of the additions regarding the Capitol members helped to enhance Collins’ message in a way that first-person narration in the novels didn’t allow for.