November 09, 2012

CYBILS F/SF: SHATTER ME, by Tahereh Mafi

Fair warning: this is a bewildering review. It's for a book that makes no sense to me with the cover it has, with a title that doesn't makes as much sense to me, either, and a tagline - MY TOUCH IS LETHAL/MY TOUCH IS POWER - which hasn't come to fruition for me either (WHEN does she feel powerful? Um, never...), all of which may make you wonder why I'm reviewing a book I clearly don't seem to like. Well, because... I don't hate it. Yes, there's a shocking abuse of adjectives, yes, it's got many generic themes and some seriously HYPED romance that doesn't do anything for me, but something about this novel has potential. I kept reading, because I kept thinking that around the next corner, the wobbles would firm, and it would all would straighten out. To be honest, it never did.

I'm disappointed to see yet another YA post-apocalyptic so-called dystopia so larded with romantic themes that the specifics of the oppressive government, the reasons behind the oppression, and a clear picture of the curtailed freedoms are lost. Since we hardly see anything but the character and her love interest(s), it's all very hazy - and maybe deliberately so. And yet...

Reader Gut Reaction: The alleged dystopia, has a lot of the typical earmarks (I don't concur that this is what the genre is in truth): a civilization is essentially over because of Some Big Thing that no one truly comprehends, remembers, or understands; the birds/animals are gone, which is my first clue that some major ecological Thing had gone on, the food is poisoned, the water is poisoned, and people eat manufactured substances from nutripacks. Oh, and the new prison state is run by traditionally Aryan looking young adults who double as extras from THE LORD OF THE FLIES movie set. There is, at first, prison: grim, dirty, tricky, and a laced with whole lot of crazy. There is no LIGHT. No one ever sees each other. Superheated food it left at random intervals in a slot on the door, and the main character has to learn to leave it alone for three minutes, or be burned. Of course, if you haven't eaten in two days, this is a little hard to recall; main character Juliette's hands bear the scars of being reminded.

There seems to be a lot less thought and background and world-building than chaotic, useless action - soldiers marching, leaves flying, lots of build-up to nothing much, and then, BOOM: into the world of silent and solitary comes ... a boy. Adam.

Concerning Character: Juliette has been in solitary 264 days, and when Adam is suddenly her roommate, she shows signs of strain. The psychological tension of this event have been ramped up until it was at a screaming pitch, but instead, it ends anticlimactically. After two weeks of essentially obsessing on him, showing him tiny kindnesses, and being shown one in return, they're jumped by the guards, and she wakes elsewhere, with A Deal being put before her. She suddenly finds her voice - which mainly says, "Oh, no, no, no, bad guy, no to you!" and she puts her faith and love in Adam, who had been in her cell with her, a boy she had known from afar years before her incarceration - but a boy whom she cannot trust because she has A Big Secret.

At the outset, I was engaged with Juliette because she was clearly trying to figure out the world along with me. There was a BIG element of WTH going on - she was taken from prison, given fancy clothes, a banquet dinner, and the works -- WHY??? Except, she seemed to lose interest in all of that just when it became crucial to the reader's understanding. Everything was Adam, Adam, and more Adam. There are a LOT of metaphors, a lot of similes, and a lot of focus on Adam's dreamy blueblueblue eyes, etc.

And then, there's the literary convention of frequently and randomly(?) crossed out lines - both within the title tagline and throughout the text. They are bewildering, because do the crossed out lines mean that a thing is not true? Or that it is an also-ran to the new truth Juliette is now embracing? Or, is it just to remind you that there is a journal, which, somehow, no one ever takes from Juliette, despite it being allegedly illegal to have individual thoughts?? We're never told.

Further, while Adam is a hot distraction - imagine being presented with a cute boy after not having been touched for a few years, there's a little MORE crazy to have - I would have been deeply concerned about a.) where the HECK were her parents, b.)had there been a trial for her trumped-up incarceration, or was this jail thing forever, or c.) why was an accidental ability criminalized when CLEARLY she wasn't responsible, d.) how the heck did she get that power? (it's hinted at in the end, but not thoroughly explored to anyone's satisfaction). I would have had SO MANY QUESTIONS! And a LOT more crazy! Instead, she collapses into the trending role in a lot of YA post-apocalyptic pseudo-dystopia as Victim Heroine, so people come and save her. She is, after all, blindingly beautiful (264 days in solitary with infrequent two minute showers and intermittent food would make me look my best, too), and the object of a love triangle, between the bad guy and Adam. Bah.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Romance novels in which the heroine is all Girl In Peril, like DELIRIUM, by Lauren Oliver, the BUMPED series, by Meghan McCafferty, WITHER, by Lauren DeStefano, XVI by Julia Karr. Oh, and TWILIGHT, by that Stephanie Meyers person.

Cover Chatter: I mentioned my bewilderment about the big white dress - it does show up, in one of the very odd scenes wherein Juliette is asked to dress for dinner with the bad guy/dictator/head guy/random thug; however, for a novel which starts in a psychiatric prison facility, and spends a lot of time in darkness filled with soldiers and riding in tanks and running for one's life and hiding in yet another facility, it seems that THAT dress would not be the most accurate pointer toward a hint about the plot.

The new cover depicting a gigantic eye with the lashes growing ...leaves? at least gives a good hint about the psychiatric facility. It's striking and vivid in color, and very different - no generic Girl With Long Hair And Foofy Dress, which means it's a win, and the following two novels of the trilogy will stick with that cover trend.

Final Thoughts, During Which I Still Flail About Trying To Explain: I do not love this plot. There are issues. However, Tahereh Mafi is a talented writer whose freshman outing with this novel shows some wobble - but I cannot help but see the talent, too, and hope for more from her - maybe not dystopia, with its necessarily detailed world-building and focus on the complexities of freedoms and government and corruption, etc., but maybe strictly post-apocalyptic romance - I think she'd be good at conveying, At The End Of The World, I'll Still Love You. She's doing that here, and for readers who enjoy the heightened sorts of emotions and blisteringly fast build-ups to Love Eternal, this is the book for you.

Library copy, unsolicited review

You can find SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi at an independent bookstore near you!

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