Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #52: Shatter Me

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #52: Shatter MeShatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Series: Shatter Me #1
Published by HarperCollins on October 2, 2012
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance
Pages: 340
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
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two-half-stars

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. After a lifetime without freedom, she's finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she'd lost forever.

Recommended by: Kayla Beck (Bibliophilia, Please)

Alright, guys, this is one of THOSE books. Almost everyone in the community has read it and everyone has OPINIONS. This is a good thing, but puts a lot of pressure on me to have something to say that might be unique to me, if not necessary brilliant. This review was roughly a hundred status updates in the making, combined with a whole lot of thoughts I kept in my head. The short version is that Shatter Me has surprisingly good bones, but regularly goes off the rails in hilaribad ways. The long version is coming up.

World Building

The world building in Shatter Me is fairly minimal, running along fairly standard YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic lines. THINGS happened with nature because of humans and then that made nature all mad and now weather is unpredictable and animals are poisoned and/or dying out. Birds apparently still exist but no longer fly. In the wake of this destruction, The Reestablishment promised better living conditions and took power, but utterly failed to make things better; they are however pretty awesome at the military dictatorship thing, or so I’m told.

I'm swamped

That all sounds pretty grim, in both the I-would-not-like-to-build-a-summer-home-there sense and the quality sense, but, as YA dystopias go, it’s a decent foundation. Though humans fucked up the environment and shit got weird isn’t done all that scientifically, I’m willing to roll with it. The government is suitably creepy with their tanks and fucked up mental institutions (more on this in a moment) and their teen commanders (more on this later too). There could definitely be more world building, but I at least have a basic idea of what happened, and it’s enough that I can accept it without any real suspension of disbelief issues.

hmm

The real caveat on the world building side of things for me was the opening setting in the mental hospital. Now, this setting is definitely creepy as fuck, arresting and memorable. I liked how dark and mysterious it was. At the same time, it really didn’t make any sense, as good of a hook as it was. Juliette’s in a cell in a mental institution where they deliver her food daily (most of the time), but there are no lights on in the hallways and she’s given an allotted amount of time in which to grope blindly to the shower and return to her cell. There is NO supervision and she had to figure all of this out on her own. What happens if she doesn’t return in the allotted time? I mean, literally, no mental hospital would work this way. And, apparently, all the mental patients have that same allotted time, and just so much no.

i do not think it means what you think it means

Just because something is cool and creepy and makes the reader want to continue reading to see what the fuck is happening does not make it a good choice.

Plot

Shatter Me has almost no plot to speak of, though, what plot there is, I rather like. Unfortunately, most of the pages are consumed by the romantic aspects of the book (more on this later too). Shatter Me is basically a whole lot of time spent on the reveal of what is going on with Juliette, when, if you’re looking at the book online, will probably be revealed by the tags associated with the book or by any knowledge of the pop cultural things it’s borrowing from.

is it rogue

Rogue Juliette cannot touch people, because she will steal their strength and they will die. Like Rogue, she gets caught up in the battle between the forces of evil, The Reestablishment led by Warner (so far, though he’s not the TOP guy) and Omega Point headed by Professor X Castle. She’s the most important piece in this puzzle. We also get to meet Mr. Fantastic Winston. Mostly, it’s the plot of the first X-Men movie. No wonder I like this plot! While it’s pretty blatant, I actually REALLY LOVE plots about people with powers, so, despite the lack of originality so far, I’m totally game.

floating champagne

The main issue is that the actual plot of the book could have been condensed down to fifty pages or less without breaking a sweat. I’m ALL for characterization, but it is possible to do that while moving the plot along, I promise. Genre fiction should not be ALL about the romance.

Writing

First off, before the rant begins, I want to be clear: I do not think that Mafi’s writing is entirely without merit. In fact, I think a good deal of it is quite good and worked effectively for the story she’s telling. However, I also think the book would have been much more effective if she’d toned it down a bit and smoothed it out. I do like how distinct the narrative voice is, and the uniqueness, but there’s unique and then there’s on crack.

cracked out wilma

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the strikethroughs. Honestly, I don’t give a shit about them. They do nothing for me, but they also don’t bother me unduly. They’re there, but whatever. I really don’t get why Mafi made that choice, since Juliette often contradicts herself without them, but, hey, it’s visual and she wanted to, so alright. Go for it. I was expecting them to be all over the place, but there’s really only one for every two or three pages, so it was not a big deal for me.

Where I did have problems was Mafi’s famed purple prose. I knew this might be an issue and, indeed, it was. Actually, I’m not entirely opposed to purple prose or to effusions of metaphor. I like rather fancy, intricate, pretentious writing a lot of the time. Mafi does have a nice poetic style and, much of the time, she used it to great effect.

Many of her metaphors worked for me, like visions of blood over everything, shattering, windows, and even the sense of her own weakness (to some degree). They make sense for what Juliette has been through and are a sort of logical fracturing. She’s crazy, but a psychologist could look through her thoughts and make sense of them. Her world is full of violence, death and danger, so she sees blood all over everything, and it symbolizes her guilt as well. The shattering, the windows, and her physical weakness all play into her condition. She’s untouched by humans and feels brittle, cold and oddly weak, despite the fact that she could take out most anyone stupid enough to get too close.

However, Mafi didn’t stick to these motifs, and sometimes her metaphors get totally out of control. Yes, Juliette is crazy, but I don’t necessarily think that means anything goes. I don’t have a psych degree, so I acknowledge that my opinion is not an expert one. What I can say without a doubt is that the ones that didn’t have a method to the madness threw me out of the book as I was reading, which is never a good thing and is a damn shame, since otherwise it’s quite absorbing despite the lack of plot. Here are some of the excesses:

“He shifts and my eyes shatter into thousands of pieces that ricochet around the room, capturing a million snapshots, a million moments in time. Flickering images faded with age, frozen thoughts hovering precariously in dead space, a whirlwind of memories that slice through my soul.” (7)

“Someone is sticking forks in my back as I trip away.” (40)

“They filled our world with weapons aimed at our foreheads and smiled as they shot 16 candles right through our future.” (64)

“His gaze is fixed on me: calm, unflappable; 2 buckets of river water at midnight.” (113)

“I’m an old creaky staircase when I wake up.” (290)

“My jaw is dangling from my shoelace.” (308)

“His lips are pressed against my neck and my hands are on a journey down his upper body and I’m wondering why there are so many freight trains in my heart, why his chest is a broken harmonica.” (328)

Listen, if you love this, that’s great. Maybe you have a better understanding of Juliette’s psychosis than I do or maybe you are the kind of person who appreciates poetry, something I mostly fail to do though I wish I could. These are just a sampling of the moments that really threw me for a loop as a reader. For the full list, you can check my status updates on Goodreads.

The problem with these is that make no kind of sense. Does river water really look that much different from other kinds of water in a bucket at midnight? Does river water always look the SAME at midnight? It’s not effected by the weather? Really? What if it’s windy or raining? Is the bucket indoors? Your writing should not be sending my brain off into a length consideration of river water and buckets when I’m supposed to be drowning in the buckets of Adam’s eyes.

diving into adam's eyes

If it were just one or two of these metaphors gone awry, I could just let it go, but that’s a LOT of metaphors that my brain trips over like Juliette does over everything. Each time, the logic centers of my brain kick into gear and start asking pesky questions the author really doesn’t want me to be asking. I think these absurd metaphors are intended to sell Juliette as crazy, but I honestly didn’t need that, whether they’re realistic psychologically or not.

At the same time, I also think the book could have used more consistency. For all the status updates of overdoses on metaphors, there are also plenty of chapters where Juliette’s thought processes are almost entirely straightforward, at least for her. The more plot there is, the less weird she is. Maybe that’s intentional, but I don’t feel like much has happened yet to make her much saner. It’s like the absurd metaphors are to distract from the lack of plot. Juliette’s thought processes should be relatively the same throughout and she’s really not.

Heroine

Oh, Juliette. Most of what I need to say about her has been said already in the above section, but I have a few more thoughts. Juliette comes from the school of incredibly powerful heroines who don’t do a damn thing most of the time. She is one hundred percent capable of saving herself at all points, but she doesn’t. This trope grates on me, mostly because the end result is sexy menfolk swooping in and saving the weak female, when Juliette is actually NOT weak. She could take out either Adam or Warner EASILY, all appearances to the contrary.

harmless little bunny

Admittedly, she has, understandably, shit self-esteem, since everyone always treated her like a leper, what with her murder hands. I get it, and I’m a bit more forgiving, but if this continues as the series goes along, that forgiveness will expire.

Most problematic is that Juliette often exhibits signs of literally being too stupid to live:

“I’ve discovered I don’t know how to breathe. I’ve realized I’ll probably never exhale in his presence.” (114)

“I don’t remember what it means to breathe.” (178)

“I don’t even realize I’ve stopped breathing until he speaks.” (303)

“I’ve forgotten I know how to speak.” (303 also)

We all know how I feel about The Evil Sentence, no matter how well you dress it up. If you cannot remember to breathe, you will die of asphyxiation. She also can’t remember how to talk on multiple occasions. She also trips constantly. It gets really old fast. Plus, one of the recurring elements is Juliette feeling as though she’s lost her body parts: eyes, jaw, heart, lungs, and on and on. She keeps losing body parts along the way, but refuses to just die. How’s she going to make out with Adam without a jaw? How’s she going to defeat the bad guys with broken knees, no eyes, and no heart?

what are you going to do

Romance

Listen, guys, I don’t ship it. I ship nothing in this book. If I have to ship something, I’ll go with one of the guys she’s not able to touch so that this can go in a hilarious Pushing Daisies direction and the excesses of hormone-soaked metaphor can be left behind.

saran wrap kiss

Both of the guys instalove on this girl. Adam feels “immediately drawn” to Juliette on their first meeting, even though he never actually talked to her for YEARS (222). He was in love with her before he spoke. This trope does not turn me on. Warner too, big bad psychopathic Warner, is in love with her before the book ends. He’s a creepy stalker, but give me a fucking break.

Also, SPOILER, they can both touch her because how the hell else can we have ample opportunities for melodrama and metaphor? Pointing out to the reader the own weakness in her plot (which happens twice) does not make it less weak. No, just no to all of this. I’m sure this has all been said before, so I’m not bothering, because mostly I don’t care and I am just rolling my eyes as hard as I can.

i would vomit

The only thing I care about: unshipping Juliette and Adam. Either that or unshipping Juliette and all romance, which is probably the case. All I know is that the worst writing invariably crops up any time she is left alone with Adam, which has given me a strong aversion to his character. Chapters where she’s with other people were almost entirely fine. Adam is the death to decent writing.

Conclusion

Basically, this book was addictively entertaining, while also being snarkbait. I definitely want to read the rest of the series, even if I’m liable to get lots of questions about why I’m doing that to myself. Because I want to. I may have disliked a lot of things about it, but I was highly entertained at the same time, so I’ll read more if I damn well please. Shatter Me: Addictabad.

Favorite Quote:

I spent my life folded between the pages of books.

In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

this must be what going mad feels like

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18 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #52: Shatter Me”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed all your updates on Shatter Me!

    I liked Shatter Me, but I agree that the writing was just too much. I knew going in that it had the cross outs and cut off sentences so that didn’t bother me, but the writing was just too fancy for me. It got to the point where I just started ignoring all the metaphors because I just didn’t get them.
    Kimberly @ On The Wings of Books recently posted…Review * The Program by Suzanne YoungMy Profile

  2. Cayce says:

    Haha, loved this review! I’m one those who is still on the fence about reading the Shatter Me series, and while your review didn’t exactly help me to decide either way, it was super entertaining. 😀
    The bunny, the “The Evil Sentence”. Lol.
    ““His gaze is fixed on me: calm, unflappable; 2 buckets of river water at midnight.” ” …uhum…
    And omg yes, Pushing Daisies!!! Though I LOVED that show.
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  3. Hahah so entertained. Great review. I have actually not picked this one up yet. For some reason I am just not that intrigued by the book, though many really love it. Now reading your review, I have very little urge to go read it. The quotes you posted just made me laugh, I don’t think I could handle the romance, lack of plot, and overall writing style.
    Ashley @The Quiet Concert recently posted…Stacking the Shelves (55) – Jan 18thMy Profile

  4. Kelly says:

    One of the big things that was constantly pulling me out of the story was the imagery used in Juliette’s metaphors – I know at one point she compared her heart to a field of lilies. Considering the bleak landscape Mafi created, where not even birds can fly, how the hell does Juliette know what a field of lilies looks like?

    But yea, I concur. This whole series is addictabad.

  5. BUT HOW MANY STARS, CHRISTINA?

    I am probably going to read this trilogy soon, mostly because I am very intrigued by Ignite Me. Which is weird, because I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for the last book in a series I haven’t read. Anyway.

    Ooh, creepy setting. That is definitely promising for me. And the world-building doesn’t sound like something I’d take *too* much issue with. Okay, but yeah, kept reading your review. That seems off. #livecommenting

    SEE THIS SCARES ME: THE NO PLOT AND ALL ROMANCE. I DON’T WANT THIS. And I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on with Juliette. So that sucks.

    I really want Mafi to write another series/book soon, because I want to know if he writing is really like that or if it was specifically for Juliette’s character. Because I heard the metaphors get less prominent with each book. Also, that gif.

    EW PURPLE PROSE AND METAPHORS. Having just read All That Glows, I am soooo done with that shit, Christina. Hell no. But Mel says that the metaphors in ATG are worse than the ones in SM. *shrug*

    Ew, insta-love. But still, of the two love interests, is it bad that I think I’d find myself more drawn to Warner? Adam seems so boring. At least Warner seems a little bit interesting. Kind of like Cole, maybe? And what, can they both touch her because they love her? Because come on.

    BUT HOW MANY STARS, CHRISTINA?
    Blythe Harris recently posted…Review: Perfect Lies by Kiersten WhiteMy Profile

  6. Katie says:

    All your comments are totally valid, and I actually didn’t like this one nearly as much as I liked UNRAVEL ME. The writing in that one is less purple prose but still with the same style, and Juliette is stronger IMHO. The only thing I would say is that you really do need to read “Destroy Me,” or else the second book isn’t as good. The insight into Warner is intrical to the plot of book 2, I think. So make sure you read the novella first!

    In other news, Adam is boring, and I like him less and less with each new book and novella. Warner FTW! At least he’s interesting!
    Katie recently posted…2014 Books I’m Dying For: Sci-fiMy Profile

  7. Eden says:

    Ahaha, I think you did an excellent job of saying something unique! I’m in agreement on those metaphors. I actually dig purple prose, but only to a certain extent, and while some of them were lovely, others were just nonsensical and headache-inducing. Now that I think of it, Juliette’s uselessness is rather annoying… I wonder why I didn’t pick up on it the first time I read it, LOL. But I don’t think I’ll brave reading it again to see what I think now. 😛
    Eden recently posted…review: Out of the EasyMy Profile

  8. You’re so right about the ridiculous-ness of the mental hospital. That’s exactly how I felt about that ending. I’m totally down for an X-Men rip off because they’re that freaking cool. lol I was beyond shocked that my digital library actually purchased the novellas too so yay for that. Fabulous review. I had a fun time reading this with you!
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Poetry Review – Love & Misadventure by Lang LeavMy Profile

  9. Nori says:

    You made some excellent points! I think I remember enjoying this one more than other people did. But I think I read it as ARC 3 years ago, and I kind of need to go back now and read my review and see if I noticed the same things. I never kept going with the series, even if I liked it. But, now I kind of want to.
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  10. I can’t stop laughing over here. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the series (somewhat), but this review and your status updates just killed me. HILARIOUS. My thoughts:

    1) I’m afraid the purple prose doesn’t get better. I noticed it more in bk 2.

    2) TEAM WARNER! Actually, I’d be happier if Juliette decided to live a life of celibacy, but I think Warner ends up being less dysfunctional.

    3) Juliette, unfortunately, does not become less annoying in bk 2. She whines more, does less. (Warner, however, keep being awesome.)

    I would encourage you to keep reading, though, because bk 2 is KENJI-TASTIC.
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  11. Molli says:

    (Teehee, Simon GIF. BEST thing ever. Also, masterful Pushing Daises GIF usage!)

    Okay, thoughts. (I hope you’ll read Unravel Me!) I’m entirely biased because for once, purple prose WORKED for me in Shatter Me. I loved it, every metaphor, and breathless moment. Usually I’d be in the corner making the sign of the cross going “get this book AWAY from me,” but for some crazy reason, I adored it. I even really liked Juliette/Adam, in that first blush of insta-lust. (I will say, now I detest them and think they’re totally unhealthy. I DEFINITELY unship them. THINGS happen in Unravel Me, and really, in the novella before it. THINGS, Christina.) Just…Adam…NO. I’m planning to re-read this this year in advance of the final book, and really curious to see if my thoughts on it change.

    The strike-throughs, I think, were a really effective underscore for Juliette’s mental instability. They’re used really interestingly in Unravel Me, and again, I’d love to see your thoughts on it.

    Juliette herself, I loved. She has some moments where I’d love to shake her soundly, or possibly feed her anti-depressants, but I really, really like her. Maybe you’ll grow to like her, too. (If not, that’s okay!)

    I’m relieved and happy you didn’t hate this on outright. I will say, I’m SO curious to see if Mafi writes something after this. I, too, would love to see her style carried over into a new world/MC, but toned down a little bit so it has a little more ooomph.
    Molli recently posted…Review: Me After You by Mindy HayesMy Profile

  12. I’m glad that you liked the writing style of this to an extent and some of the plot. I never noticed the excess of the metaphors she used in the book until you pointed them out in the excerpts, but I can definitely see where it may have gotten old. I feel like the biggest flaw in the Shatter Me books are always in Juliette’s character because while the writing style is gorgeous and captures her insanity really well, she’s so passive. Like no matter what life throws at her she kind of takes it and handles it like nothing’s wrong. I definitely agree that her character could get tiring at times. Fantastic review, though, Christina! <33
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  13. When I first read it, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It seems to be very well-loved so I have absolutely no idea..

    I sorta liked it and didn’t at the same time. It was a little too strange for me and I was tired with the romance that didn’t make me feel much. It only picked up closer to the end of the book and by then, I was so uncaring to anything that happened.

    Weirdly, though, Unravel Me kind of blew my mind. I loved how it picked up and Mafi definitely developed as a writer.
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  14. Angie F. says:

    So…I totally agree with just about everything, except that I totally ship Juliette and Warner with every fiber of my being. I hate Adam. He’s boring as heck.

    The whole being able to touch her thing is explained in the sequel…but I was annoyed by it because YES TO PUSHING DAISIES!!!

    I can’t even remember why I gave this one 4 stars. It was more like a 3 to me, but I read it in my early blogging days so I was probably scared to have people yell at me for not loving it, but OMG I HATE HER WRITING! I loathe it, but somehow Unravel Me became my favoritest book of 2013 and I want to marry it I loved it so much. It’s bizarre.

    Sorry for the crazy comment. It’s my bed time.
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  15. Annie says:

    I love the Princess Bride gifs!!

    You have to read the novella Destroy Me before you get to Unravel Me. It makes a world of difference.

    I totally agree – as much as I actually love these books (I have woken up as an old creaky staircase myself on occasion) I also appreciate that not everyone will. But even if there are things that drive you crazy I love that this is a snark-worthy, entertaining series. I can’t wait to read more reviews as you go 🙂
    Annie recently posted…the fall of CamelotMy Profile

  16. Ellis says:

    Holy shit, the list of comments on this one. Well, you weren’t lying when you said the gifs were random. They are also extremely awesome.

    Obviously this entire review is ridic good, but I was particularly impressed with the symbolism part. I probably wouldn’t have seen it that way, but it makes sense to me. GOLD STAR FOR YOU.

    Haaa, and I know about the X-Men similarities. I’m still not sure of whether to read these books. Maybe I’ll read them in Dutch, because I want to see if and how they translated the purply purply prose.

    “Adam is the death to decent writing.”

    Habana forever on that one.
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  17. Kayla Beck says:

    I felt so bad to even have you read this one. I’m surprised you didn’t snark it more than you did. Anywho, I listened to the audiobook, so the scratching sounds that were made when things were scratched out in the book may’ve made me a little more stabby than I would’ve been otherwise.
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  18. The fact that the world-building was good enough without raising too much questions is okay. But it’s a shame that there were holes in the hole mental institution part just to make things creepy. I do like the sound of the plot, I really like X-men. I’m not sure what to think about the writing-style. I do appreciate poetry, so it might work for me.. but I’ve heard several books with such descriptions and not all of them were a success, so I guess I can only say if I give it a try.
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