Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review - Shatter Me

Original Title: Shatter Me
Series: Shatter Me, #1
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Published: November 11th, 2011

Publisher: HarperCollins

Before starting this, I should probably tell you that this will be an angry rant review, the type I normally reserve the one star GoodReads rating for. So, if you like this saga, you shouldn’t keep reading, because I don’t have anything good to say about this book, and you are not going to like it.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The reason I grabbed this book is simple. I heard it is becoming a tv series this year, and I didn’t want to be late to the party. After all, it happened to me before that, upon watching adaptations of popular books and sagas I had ignored, I found amazing stories I couldn’t believe I didn’t know before. So, as I saw this one was so popular among the reading community, and had been translated to so many languages, I decided to give it a try. And, oh, my God, what a let down! I can’t believe how so many people love this so much.

Upon the first few chapters things were going smoothly. Juliette, as narrator, telling us about her situation, locked up in that asylum for so long, was good in the way that it truly reflected a person both physically and mentally trapped, someone who had spent too much time in the sole company of herself and her thoughts. Her way of speaking truly reflected her isolation, her hopelessness, the feeling of being caged as an animal, and the prison of her own mind, as she tried to keep her sanity. She had this relatable moment in which I thought “I’m going to like this girl” because in her words I saw me:

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.

For a moment I thought Tahereh Mafi was an amazing, talented new author I would want to keep reading. But that feeling soon crashed and burned, and I don’t even know where to start to explain myself.

Let’s go for the writing. I believe the style is called “purple prose”, and I don’t need more examples of it to tell you I don’t like it. It’s unnerving. Juliette, as the narrator, gets so annoying I wanted to throw the book at the wall every few pages. And I’m going to use actual quotes to support this. For example, at one point she says “Mechanical clinks/cracks/creaks and shifts shake the space I’m standing in.” *deep breath* Really? Do you need three adjectives to describe one single sound? Is it that important? Or, about Adam, she goes “his lips his lips his lips”, just like that, no comas, no breathing, and I wonder, is it necessary? (spoiler: no, it’s not). 

Juliette’s narration drove me CRAZY, especially with these particular phrases and moments:

- “Heat rushes up my neck and I fall off a ladder holding a paintbrush dipped in red.” - What a hell is that?? I’m so glad you asked: it is unnecessary, uncalled for, and exhausting. All those fancy words are only there to tell us she blushed when Adam grinned. And this is just one example of the other thousand times it happens.

- “My heart is parasailing in the springtime.” - *eye roll* Forget her powers, this is the kind of thing Juliette should be in an asylum for. If I meet a person who talks like this every few sentences I would probably think she needs therapy. As poetic as it may sound, I don’t think a Dystopia is the type of story to fill with that kind of writing. 

- “The sun is revolving around the moon when he responds.” - What a hell does it even mean?? Why it is there? To make me lose the little patience I have left? There’s not even a point for that sentence, it’s too farfetched, it doesn’t add anything to the moment, it’s just... confusing. And exhausting.

- “His lips are spelling secrets and my ears are spilling ink, staining my skin with his stories.” - such a FORCED metaphor, as there’s another billion in the book. For God’s sake, STOP! Talk like a normal person, I’m begging you! You are draining my energy! 

Don’t get me wrong, though. Metaphors are good from time to time, but it should be a limit. Here, it is like the author overloaded the book with them just to show us she can do it. Here is the thing: they are like condiments. You use them to spice up a dish, but if you put too much, you ruin the food, and can’t truly taste it. And this book felt exactly like that, like I was reading metaphors among which I had to find an actual tasteless plot, instead of a plot in which I could find some clever metaphor scattered here and there, and enjoy the hint of poetry in the middle of the prose.

And finally, this abhorrent thing, upon a dialogue between Adam and Juliette:

- “I want to ask and don’t want to ask and need to ask and never want to ask. I have to ask.” - *eye roll and face-palmage* This is EXHAUSTING *snapping fingers repeatedly in Juliette’s face* Come on girl, FOCUS! Make a decision!

I had more examples, but I think you get the idea. Just so you know, the whole book is filled with this kind of phrases, and I could quote a million of them. But don’t worry, I won’t. I choose to keep my sanity. Let’s move on!

Juliette Ferrars is a cardboard character, and I couldn’t stand her. There’s no explanation for her powers, and she lives sunk in self-pity for what they caused in her life (her parents’ rejection, the boy she accidentally killed). She’s considered a monster, a pariah. But when she comes out of her prison, suddenly every single male character is attracted to her, and she’s set as this oh, so insanely beautiful girl who is unaware of her own looks (cliché?). She’s presented as so smart –given the kind of phrases and metaphors she uses–, and as a badass, but unsuccessfully. I don’t like her, and nothing can change that, I’m afraid; and it’s not for the sake of comparison, but I read about so many other female heroines, in so much better books, that, without half of Juliette’s abilities, can teach her a thing or two about true badassery, repeatedly kick her ass, and send her crying like a baby to a corner.

Let’s talk about Adam Kent for a while. From the moment he appeared I knew he eventually would become the love interest. After all, when you are presented a physically perfect character, there’s not much space for doubt. You just know. And that bothered me so much! Adam is set to be this perfect person, and fully becomes a YA stereotype good guy. He does everything right, he has no faults in Juliette’s eyes, and obviously, he has the perfectly sculpted body (like it could have been otherwise), unique blue eyes, dark hair, and so on. And I just don’t like when the heroine falls for a guy she considers “perfect”. It doesn’t work for me, if I wanted to read that I would grab the Twilight saga. On the other hand, Adam is such a good person, that even after running away with Juliette and being chased, he doesn’t even shoot to kill, only to incapacitate, even when every single soldier out there has been ordered to kill him on sight. And I just… *sigh of defeat* This is beyond me.

The love story is probably one of the worst I’ve ever read. I don’t buy insta-loves, and this isn’t the exception. Juliette makes no sense, she says she wants to touch someone with her heart, but when she “falls in love”, it’s only a physical relationship, and there’s absolutely no reason for Juliette and Adam to fall for each other. They claim to know each other from school, and they jump from there to the “I love you”, and that may be enough for them, but for me, it’s not. I can’t root for characters I don’t know. I can’t trust they know each other enough to unfold a love story like this one, because I haven’t been there to see the reasons behind those feelings. Plus, Juliette describes and praises Adam’s body every few sentences, and I’m like “Ok, the guy is hot, I get it, let’s move on!”. I’m here to be told a story, not to read some guy’s description, and/or a completely unreal love based on perfection, which annoys me even more, because I personally consider that love isn’t because of perfection, but because, even knowing imperfection, being together is still worthy. 

Some phrases were just so out of place. At one point, Juliette says “I want to taste the landscape of his body.”, and I just… *throwing book at the wall* What is this, a YA Dystopia or a bodice ripper historical romance?? Not only is the love story so poorly written is sickening, they can’t seem to be able to take their hands from each other for a second. Because, of course, Adam can touch her, when everyone else can’t, and he happens to be the hottest person on the planet. How convenient. Plus, as I already said, Juliette says she wants to touch someone with her heart, but her relationship with Adam is mostly horniness and making out. The scenes in which they almost have sex are too much, and it was kind of boring, like “come on, you like each other, we get it. Is something going to happen, or I just have to read about you making out for another million paragraphs?”. I got sick of them kissing in the most inappropriate times and places, and of Juliette describing her body’s reaction to Adam’s touch every-single-damn-time . Moreover, at one point, I read an entire paragraph of it only to realize I didn’t get a word, because my mind went somewhere else, and I discovered I didn’t even need to re-read it because I was not missing anything worthy important. It feels as if Tahereh Mafi is trying to mask a weak romance with so many metaphors and descriptions, and Juliette and Adam’s obsession with each other. Both things add absolutely nothing to the story, they feel like filler content, and take half of the book. And I just can’t read a novel based solely on that. I need something more.

Ok. Moving on. I would like so say a few words about the villain, Warner. At first, I thought he had potential, but soon it fell flat. He’s obsessed with Juliette and wants to use her as a weapon in a war that is barely mentioned, and although he’s meant to be this guy slowly going crazy by power, I hated him for a whole lot of different reasons. He’s so poorly written that I just couldn’t even hate him for the right thing. He keeps talking to Juliette about his plans, and when he discovered that he could actually touch her, I wanted to flush the book down the toilet. The scene in which Warner finally captures Juliette was the final straw. He pins her against the wall and kisses her, and I quote: “I don’t know how to reconcile the confusion in my mind, my hesitant repulsion, my inexplicable chemical reaction to his lips.” It is like she knows this is wrong, but at the same time she doesn’t want him to stop, when a few pages ago she claimed she loved Adam. Oh, my God, she’s so annoying! And I wonder, is this supposed to be the hint of a future love triangle around a girl who can’t touch people, but casually these two guys can? What are the odds? In my opinion, it would be a lot more meaningful and less insufferable if Adam can’t actually touch her, like the rest of the world, and they count it as another reason to fight for their love and find a way to be together. That would be something worth reading instead of seeing that they are great with each other right from the get-go (and can’t control their impulses).

There’s so many scenes that just don’t make much sense, like when, after Kenji shows up all beaten up in Adam’s house and warns them about the soldiers being an inch away from capturing them, he immediately goes and hits on Juliette for at least… two pages? I think that both Kenji and the scene are meant to be funny, but they aren’t. I mean, weren’t they in a rush? Two seconds earlier they were getting ready to run as fast as they could, and now they have time to flirt? Right after that, Adam’s little brother, James, comes home, they try to explain him that they have to flee, Kenji blurts a cuss word, and Adam tells him not to use them in front of James, who says he doesn’t mind, because he hears them all the time. And then, Adam has no better idea than asking him where he learns cuss words, and says is not okay for him to keep hearing them… *eye roll* Are they running for their lives or NOT?? Come on people, common sense! Right in the next line, Juliette says “we are all fugitives running for our lives” and Adam decides to play the big brother part, worried about Kenji’s swear words in front of his kid brother *if I roll my eyes one more time I’ll go blind* 

After this, things just go from bad to worse. They are finally captured, and Adam is shot and tortured. And the worst part wasn’t the situation itself, but finding myself thinking that “if he dies, I actually don’t care”, and if your reaction to a main character’s (and love interest) death is “meh”, I think that speaks volumes. Anyway, Juliette is taken alive to Warner, and here is when things start making even less sense. This is the scene I previously referred to, when he kisses her, and she sorts of likes it, but my point is that, in previous chapters, Juliette proved the reach of her powers, being able to smash through nothing less than a concrete wall with her bare hands (and later, steel), but right now, she can’t push Warner away? Seriously? Are you going to tell me she’s not capable of just breaking his arm, or snapping a finger or two, instead of trying to reach for his gun?

But, wait, it gets worse. She manages to reach Warner’s gun, shoots him and escapes, to find and rescue Adam. For some reason, she finds him (it’s not very clear how), in a prison of concrete and steel, tied up, and absolutely NO ONE is watching him. I mean, an entire army was after him (with every possible high-tech advantage), and once they capture him, they just leave him there, alone, unguarded? Right. I think that speaks for itself, I won’t delve deeper. You get what I mean.

Can we just talk about the ending? They escape the army, guided by Kenji, and find themselves in the rebel’s hideout, where, as I guessed from the start, Juliette is not unique, and finds out there’s others with powers like her. I don’t like to compare, but it is so like X-Men it is impossible not to notice. And it’s not like the author really bothered to disguise it: Juliette is untouchable, just like Rogue, and Castle, besides being the resistance’s leader, has mental powers, exactly like Charles Xavier. I mean, seriously, I know that comparisons are not fair, but it is like the author didn’t even try. I understand that Tahereh Mafi loves X-Men (as she clearly does), but she took the obvious path, when she could have written one or two characters as a tribute to the ones she loves, without making them both her protagonist, and the leader of the good guys, exactly as it is in X-Men. Just as the authoress Jenna Moreci says in one of her vlogs, “imitation is the highest form of flattery, but is the lowest form of creativity.

As for Kenji being a rebel, I was not surprised, because I just met him, and I didn’t have the time to be shocked, as to say, “seriously? This guy, the whole time?”. It is like the author tried to drop a bomb, but it didn’t work. And I never doubted they would end the book among the rebellion, even before meeting Kenji. What was actually a surprise was Kenji’s powers, though by the time that’s revealed, I was just too bored to care. 

Finally, a word on the book in general. I can’t rescue one single thing I liked about this book. Half of my energy was wasted trying to understand the two million annoying metaphors Tahereh Mafi decided to include for no reason at all. And I have to say it, this isn’t a YA Dystopia with a romantic subplot, but exactly the other way around. The “romance” practically dominates the book, and I think it opens up a new genre possibility: a style we could call “Dystopian Romance”, or something like that. The entire plot of “Shatter Me” revolves around an insta-romance, and the futuristic setting is more like an excuse, because it is barely mentioned. There’s practically no information about it, we don’t know what caused the current situation they are living in, and the characters are never truly in contact with it, there’s not even one first-hand experience that would help us feel something about this so terrible society they are living in. Moreover, at one point I thought that entire thing could have been moved to a contemporary background, and it would have made absolutely no difference. Plus, there’s not even a mention of where this futuristic society is located on the planet (I took for granted it is the USA, by default). I think the author missed what “Dystopian society” actually means, and, simply, adjudicating a story to the wrong genre is going to attract the wrong audience. I came here looking for a truly dystopian society, and my first thought is that I’ve definitely read better. 

I can’t believe this was recommended to fans of the Hunger Games, how dare they? That is a true masterpiece. Besides, this one is actually more similar to Twilight, in everything, from the lousy heroine to the sticky, exaggerated romance, and what I decided to call a “nice-try villain”, meaning, a character with potential, but wasted. When (and if) the tv series comes out, I may or may not give it a chance. I don’t know, and I won’t decide until it is out, though I admit I’m curious about how they will actually tell a story out of a book that is 50% forced metaphors, 40% horniness and making out, and 10% actual plot.

Phew, that was exhausting! I hate to tear books apart like this, but it really made me angry, I can’t even pretend it had good things, and if you liked this book, I’m really sorry. I just can’t think the same way, and I’m honest about it. And if it wasn’t clear already, no, I’m not going to read the rest of the saga. It isn’t for me.


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