Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh MafiShatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Narrator: Kate Simses
Series: Shatter Me #1
Published by Harper Audio on 11/15/11
Genres: Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Story: C+
Narration: B+

Shatter Me is the story of Juliette Ferrars, a seventeen year-old girl who has been confined to a room in an asylum for a bit less than a year. Even before her incarceration she was isolated and denied human contact because, as she discovered in the most horrible way possible, her touch can kill. The world outside Juliette’s window has undergone a drastic change since she was a child. People are, for the most part, grouped together in compounds and food is hard to find. Human actions have had a profound effect on the world. Sea-level has risen until water is everywhere, animals are dying, people are dying, and weather patterns have been drastically altered. Not only has the ecology of the planet been significantly damaged, the political structure has crumbled. After the panic caused by the ecological disaster, a group called the Reestablishment took control with promises of order and solutions to diminishing health and rampant starvation but as Juliette notes “…more people have died at the end of a loaded gun than from an empty stomach.”

The sudden introduction of Adam Kent as Juliette’s cellmate is both a welcome and unwelcome surprise. The two have a short-time in which to get to know one another and explore their shared past before the Reestablishment, in the person of Warner, extracts both of them and seizes upon Juliette as his perfect weapon. Warner, the son of the leader of the Reestablishment, maintains control of his troops through fear and torture. He believes Juliette is…well, something like his soul-mate I would guess but he certainly believes that by his side, she will come to relish the freedom and power her deadly touch can give her. Juliette is horrified by her power. She has a degree of inner strength that allows her to stand up to Warner to a certain extent and she refuses to give him a taste of the power she unwillingly harbors so he begins a campaign to manipulate her into recognizing that together they can rule their little corner of the world. The only hope for Juliette is escape but to where?

There are two aspects to the writing in this book that should be mentioned before I go much further. The author uses strike-through text to indicate thoughts or comments which Juliette is choosing not to voice or is avoiding thinking about. This leads to sentences that look like this:

“She is a walking weapon in society, is what the teachers said. We’ve never seen anything like it, is what the doctors said. She should be removed from your home, is what the police officers said. No problem at all, is what my parents said. I was 14 years old when they finally got rid of me. When they stood back and watched as I was dragged away for a murder I didn’t know I could commit.”

The audiobook uses a scratching sound to indicate the presence of just-delivered strike-through text and that worked surprisingly well for me. I say surprisingly because I have an intense dislike for sound effects in audiobooks but it was clearly necessary in this case and not at all annoying although I did wish for some method of determining how much of the previously spoken part was strike-through. I really liked the way this allowed the author to provide both additional insight into Juliette’s mind and graphically display a character’s internal conflict. (Speaking of surprise, I was, surprisingly, able to restrain myself and not write this entire review using strike-through text to give you additional insight into my thoughts on this book. I’m not sure how I managed that.)

The second aspect worth mentioning is the amount and type of descriptive language used as part of Juliette’s character. I have a love for evocative or uniquely phrased descriptions but I found the vast majority of what was employed in this book to be distracting and somewhat over-wrought. An example being:

“The air is crisp and cool. A refreshing bath of tangible nothing that stings my eyes and snaps at my skin. The sun is high today, blinding as it reflects the small patches of snow keeping the earth frozen. My eyes are pressed down by the weight of the bright light and I can’t see through more than two slits, but the warm rays wash over my body like a jacket fitted to my form, like the hug of something greater than a human.”

I had an intellectual understanding that Juliette’s choice of words when describing things was likely reflective of the fact that she was isolated, had little direct human interaction, lived much of her life through books, and was living in a world so changed it almost required new language to talk about but it added a degree of “emo” to an already young and sheltered character that put me at one-remove from her story, a state I recently determined has a significant impact on my rating for a book. At a guess, this will work better with a young adult audience than with the adult cross-over audience.

I like the set up for this story and while it wasn’t necessarily a refreshing twist on Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic (yes, I know they aren’t the same but there are elements of both in this book) themes, there were intriguing hints of a broader implication to the development of Juliette’s power that showed up at the end of the story. The first half of the book revolves around Juliette, Adam, and Warner with almost no secondary characters of note. Granted, it is a first-person narrative but the limited scope of characters for half the book emphasized everything about Juliette’s character that didn’t work for me. It wasn’t only the way Juliette’s thoughts and descriptions were structured, I also had a hard time finding a personality trait to relate to or sympathize with. Let me just riff off this particular incident and then I’ll get back to the main part of the review… OK, you’re captured by a semi-crazy guy who wants to use you to torture people with your touch. He’s already forced you to come into contact with one of his soldiers, causing significant harm to the man. He’s demonstrated that his idea of discipline is killing one of his soldiers who was accused of consorting with townspeople. He had your “crush” severely beaten. You’re trapped, monitored, sexually-harassed, and all he wants in return for agreeing to your request that he remove the cameras from your room is for you to touch him so he can experience your power first-hand. Our heroine’s reply? No, I won’t touch you. I can’t bear to harm someone with my touch, even though you are a creepy-stalker-psycho-killer. My reply? Buddy, show me some skin so I can put my deadly hands all over you! OK, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Where was I? Oh, right… The second half was where the action began and the introduction of additional and more fully-formed secondary characters added some amusing dialogue and took some of the focus off Juliette’s thoughts, which was a welcome relief. I wish the whole book had been the second half.

Narrator Kate Simses does an excellent job. She has the ability to deliver an authentic sounding teenage (and younger) character voice and is an excellent example of when a minor change in pitch can still make the male/female voice differentiation sound authentic. Although her Juliette irritated me, it was strictly due to the already mentioned traits because Simses delivered her character with an ideal mix of the uncertainty of youth and inexperience combined with just the right amount of backbone when pushed. The inflections she gave Warner were excellent, allowing the complexity of his character to really shine through. Rather than falling into the trap of painting him purely as a bad guy (vocally) she allows the listener to hear his confusion when Juliette won’t use her power and there are a number of other multi-layered delivery choices that I appreciated.

Overall, this book was not as enjoyable as I was hoping and occasionally it was irritating although the action that developed in the second half combined with the slight character development that Juliette experienced saved the overall experience for me.

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