YA Audiobook Weekend: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction, Dystopia
Series: Shatter Me #1
Publisher: Harper Collins
Tiara’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Narrator: Kate Simses | Length: 9 hrs and 12 mins | Audiobook Publisher: HarperAudio (November 15, 2011) | Whispersync Ready: Yes
To the world, 17-year-old Juliette Ferrars is a monster. Born with a rare gift/curse, Juliette can kill people with a touch. After three years of serving a sentence in an asylum for an accidental murder, the new governing body of the world, the Reestablishment, promises to give Juliette a fresh start if she’ll become their weapon. Over the years, even before her imprisonment, the world had started to crumble due to wars and humans taking nature for granted. The world fell into chaos and the Reestablishment swooped in and promised to make everything right. Except… they haven’t. They took the opportunity to implant themselves firmly into a position of power. More people are dying from gunshots than environmental reasons. Now rebellion is brewing as the Reestablishment talks of destroying books, artifacts, cultures, and even languages in favor of a more centralized Reestablishment focused government. And they want Juliette to help them establish this order.
Shatter Me strikes me as the type of book that’s meant to be listened to and not read. I think that’s the first time I have ever asserted such a claim about any book. The experimental style of writing lends itself better to being spoken than read. The prose is too purple, many of the metaphors and analogies too jarring, for this to have been an enjoyable book read for me. I found myself pausing the audiobook from time to time to decipher what some of these phrase choices could really mean. Examples:
“My eyes break open. Two shattered windows filling my mouth with glass.”
“Warner thinks Adam is a cardboard cutout of vanilla regurgitations.”
Some of them were brilliant, creative, and profound but some were just pretty words thrown together. But hearing it spoken, that was the key. The choppy sentences, the odd phrase choices, are better narrated, and can be seen as something indicative of Juliette’s mental state. Credit goes to the narrator, Kate Simses, for doing such an excellent job with the narration. She managed to pull a wealth of emotion from the words. Parts of the book that I probably would’ve skipped over in a reading I listened to with my full attention. Simses’ voice managed to make me truly feel for Juliette while her cool, cruel voicing of the antagonistic Warner left me wanting to punch him in the stomach. She did all the cast such justice. Simses’ emotional range kept me rapt and invested in a story that I would have otherwise skipped.
Mafi’s writing style reminded me of two other young adult books that play around with a similar experimental style–5 to 1 and The Girl from the Well. Mafi uses a similar technique of short, choppy sentences followed with long, sprawling prose much like 5 to 1 while incorporating the counting that was featured in The Girl from the Well. Twisting this to her own use, the protagonist, Juliette, writes down many of her thoughts which she scratches through and then either uses simpler phrasing, omits the information altogether, or repeats herself. In the audiobook, this is denoted by the sound of a writing tool marking through words on a paper. I admit that this does feel a bit gimmicky as it’s used less and less as the book carries on, but it was a bold decision to do something different with the writing. Mafi is undeniably a gifted writer who falls toward the more melodramatic side. She likes putting words together in creative ways, and I admire her adventurousness in this regards even when I was left a little befuddled by her choices.
This book isn’t without its problems. Despite the world that Juliette lives in, a world that was falling apart even before she was caged away, she can be far too naive about how things are. You wouldn’t expect a girl who talks of beatings and cruel treatment to be such a bright-eyed lamb. I know writers’ love their heroines, especially in young adults books, but this “too precious, too pure, for this world” thing has really got to stop. I can say that Mafi does allow Juliette some agency, but at turns, she falls into those moments when you really just want to ask why would anyone be so stupid in such a situation like worrying about a kiss when you’re about to, y’know, be dragged back to your sick, almost-rapey, obsessed captor. Let’s focus on the more life-threatening priority first. And while I was glad that Juliette stood up for herself even when she was afraid, it felt inconsistent because it wasn’t tempered well. One minute she’s about to have a panic attack, asking to be killed, because someone is breathing in her general direction and the next she’s screaming at the evil jerk running the place. I’m sure there are more consistent ways to show that Juliette has a spine. I guess I should be glad that she had one at all. There are various other concerns that popped up, but they didn’t bother me enough to make me stop listening.
On to the romance. You knew it was coming. This book features a bit of a love triangle. I really hate to go into too much detail because it would spoil too many parts of the story for those who will read it. I will say that one love interest is awfully damn convenient and the other love interest is the almost-rapey, asshole soldier who is over the sector where she lives. You already know how I feel about asshole love interests in YA books, but this is where I appreciate that Juliette pushes back, that she is allowed to express her extreme frustration with his treatment and what he expects from her. However, Juliette is surrounded by boys/men in this book, so there’s a fair share of “special snowflake” status attached to her just by virtue of her sex in general. I do feel this is a little bit of a disservice to the male characters in this book and relies too much on the idea that men can’t control themselves around women.
I still liked this book, though. I think it’s mainly because of the passion that the narrator put into this. I was invested in Juliette’s story. I cared about her situation and what happened to her and the other characters. I can see where some might see this as whiny, but as I said, the narrator takes passages I would’ve just rolled my eyes at and gave them new meaning with her narration. This story got an emotional response from me. Okay, I would be lying if I didn’t mention that this story also appealed to that part of me that loves a superhero story, and by the end of this book, that is the path that it is firmly starting to travel. Men, women, and children with powers fighting against the corrupt establishment (or Reestablishment, in this case) complete with team outfits. It’s the X-Men lover in me. This series could turn into my guilty pleasure read for 2016,
flowery words raining the wrath of God upon the far reaching pieces of our rainbow dementia colored souls purple prose and all.