Saturday, January 23, 2016

Notes on Shatter Me

I finished Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi not too long ago. Shatter Me is a young adult (YA) novel about Juliette a 17 year-old female protagonist who can kill people by touching them. Juliette’s parents don’t want her because who would want a kid who can kill you if you tried to hold her, and she’s spent most of her life being ostracized and thinking she’s a monster.

When the book opens, Juliette is in a mental institution/prison. She’s been institutionalized for three years ever since the Reestablishment (the dystopian authorities) found out about her power. The outside world is a hot mess. Normal people are eating some kind of processed food substance that expands in their stomach, the Reestablishment keeps popping people off, there are a shit load of orphans because murder/execution is so commonplace, the ecosystems are all off balance, and, of course, there is the Resistance, the people who are trying to fight back. The plot is, for the most part, cliché, but the writing pulled me in.

Juliette is the most interesting character in the book. It’s obvious that Mafi put lots of time into developing her character. Unfortunately, the other characters are two-dimensional and cliché. Adam, Juliette’s love interest, was abused by his father when he was a child, and there is no mention of a positive adult influence in his life, yet somehow, he becomes well-adjusted, kind man. This is highly unlikely and disregards the basic principles of psychology, but whatever, Adam is pretty and fine and Juliette needs somebody to make out with. Warner is the novel’s antagonist, and he’s a sinister fucker. He’s the head of a division of the Reestablishment’s army even though he’s only a teenager, and he’s obsessed with Juliette. He wants to possess her and coax her into his plot for world domination. Warner is also cliché, but he has good fashion sense.

My 3C’s rating is below:

Competent Writing: 3
This book is well-written for a YA book. Mafi doesn’t use much challenging language nor does she patronize her audience. The writing is quite accessible for YA readers. Mafi has an impressive command of metaphors and similes. I don’t know how she came up with so many! I think she over used these literary devices, but that, I’m sure, has to do with the fact that I am an adult. Kissing is nice, but honestly, it ain’t all that! Mafi’s writing for teens and people in their early 20’s. When I was in that age group, I wanted emotions to be on full blast all the time because I was frustrated, and I had so little control over life. I hadn’t experienced much, so reading about a 17 year old having explosive kisses was…well, explosive! Mafi’s abundant use of metaphors and similes allows readers who have never or have rarely experienced things like uncontained power or a steamy, kick-ass kiss feel Juliette’s intensity. It also suits Juliette’s character perfectly because Juliette has been denied human interaction for about 99% of her life. For poor Juliette, a conversation with Adam is not only jaw-dropping because he’s lonely, it’s also jaw-dropping because people have detested her and avoided her for much of her life. She’s not used to people looking her in the eyes, listening to her ideas and being kind to her.

Character Development: 2
As I stated before, Juliette is the only well-developed character in the text. All the other characters are surface at best. If this rating were for Juliette’s character development alone, I would give Mafi a 4.5. Of course, Juliette thinks she’s crazy! She’s been neglected for her entire life. Of course, she wants to be different. She can kill a motherfucker by touching him! Also, I love that Mafi developed a diverse group of characters. She’s given us an Asian-American character, a black character and white characters. Sadly, that’s a rare occurrence in the writing world. I also like that Mafi points out everyone’s racial features rather than referring to the white people as “man” or “woman” and the ethnic people as “black” or “African-American” or “Asian.” My only racial complaints are that, 1) Mafi refers to Castle’s skin as “chocolate,” as if he’s a candy bar not a human; and 2) that there are no Muslim or Iranian/Iranian-American characters in the book, and if there are, they weren’t revealed.

Content: 2
Again, the plot is basic. Can’t say that I was surprised by any of the developments in the book, except the scene in the white experiment room (that was awesome!) and when I realized that Castle was black. I am, however, surprised at how suggestive yet obfuscating the kissing scenes were. They read more like sex scenes. If you’re kissing in the shower, you’ve entered the realm of making out.

Total 3C’s Score: 7/12
Shatter Me is a well-written YA novel with a compelling protagonist. I read this book because: 1) I want to explore YA since I usually read literary and adult mainstream fiction or non-fiction; and 2) I want to read more texts by marginalized (ethnic) authors. Mafi is Iranian-American and Muslim and comes for a middle-class, possibly upper-class, family. This is the first book I have ever read that was written by an Iranian-American or a Muslim although no one in the book falls into either of these identities.

Shatter Me is Mafi’s first published novel. Although I enjoyed the book, it isn’t indicative of what she’s capable of. It’s is just her warm up. My guess is, she’ll grow and get better and better with time.

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