“Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi: a dystopian novel with a paranormal twist

By Kristen Maldonado,
Juliette has to make a choice - Be a weapon or be a warrior.
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Seventeen-year-old Juliette was born with a special power – she can kill you with just one touch. An accident three years ago involving the death of a young boy has Juliette locked away in an insane asylum by the Re-establishment, a governmental organization that claims it is dedicated to rebuilding the dying Earth. In this dystopian society, food and water are in short supply, animals are almost completely wiped out, diseases are out of control, and the sky is horribly polluted.

It’s been 264 days since Juliette has been imprisoned - that’s 264 days of not speaking, not touching anyone - when she gets a cellmate. Not just any cellmate, but a boy. A boy with dark blue eyes. Eyes she has never forgotten. A boy she knows. Adam.

Juliette has no idea what the Re-establishment is trying to do by placing Adam in her cell. She tries to keep him safe by keeping to herself, but she finds herself feeling a connection with him. That is until she finds out it was all a trick.

A soldier in the Re-establishment, it was Adam’s duty to make sure she was sane because now, after a lifetime of being feared and unwanted and months of isolation, the Re-establishment wants Juliette’s help.

Juliette has two choices - she can either become the monster everyone has always made her out to be, a weapon to be used by the people who locked her away to begin with, or a super human warrior.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is engaging at page one. Mafi does a great job transporting the reader into the story, with imagery and metaphors that, while at times can be a bit excessive, are mostly effective and very beautiful:

“I always wonder about raindrops. I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors. I am a raindrop. My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab."

With Mafi’s unique writing style, you feel like you are reading Juliette’s journal or are inside her brain. Occasional strikeouts reveal Juliette’s true innermost thoughts and feelings, and are typically followed by lines that either reflect how she thinks she should feel, or that give more emphasis and importance to her original internal thoughts. The strikeouts seem to grow few and far between as Juliette becomes a stronger person.

Juliette’s power to hurt people with just a touch has also been seen in other popular characters, like X-Men’s Rogue. What really resonates in Shatter Me is the change that comes over Juliette. At the beginning of the novel, she is completely unaccepted by the world around her. People make her out to be a monster, because of things she cannot control, because she is different. Their hatred makes her hate herself. All people who have ever felt like they were different or weird relate to this theme.

As the novel progresses, so does her relationship with Adam. The fact that he can touch her and that he even wants to touch her is unreal to her. Adam is the first person to ever show her compassion, to ever want her, and to ever love her. This, combined with the new found knowledge that there are other people like her and that she is not alone, makes her stronger and more confident. She realizes that her power, which she thought was a curse, may actually be a gift after all. Mafi manages to create more than a unique novel about a dystopian world filled with paranormal-superhero twists, romance, and a psychotic villain - she creates a story that has the ability to relate to modern-day people.

While Shatter Me is intriguing and relatable, it does have some flaws. The specifics of Juliette’s powers and the fact that she ends up in a safe-house with other people who have powers are uncomfortably close to X-Men. They even have their own Xavier, a man with telekinetic abilities who helps them control their powers, in the character, Castle. The love scenes between Adam and Juliette are too frequent, sometimes repetitive, and seem to push the book towards “cheesy romance” at times, especially when they are suppose to be running for their lives from the Re-establishment. Not enough focus is given to the dystopian society they live in and the novel ends with many questions still unanswered – luckily, that can be fixed in the upcoming sequels.

Shatter Me is Mafi’s first book, as well as the first in the Shatter Me trilogy. The second book, Unravel Me, hits stores February 5, 2013, while the third book is due out later next fall.

If you’re looking for the next Twilight Saga or Hunger Games, Shatter Me could be it! According to Tahereh Mafi’s website, the film rights for the novel have been optioned by 20th Century Fox.



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