Review: The Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi

The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi is a dystopian, young adult trilogy that became popular with its debut back in 2011. Since then the series has wrapped up with three novels (the main trilogy) and two short novellas. I read the entire collection over the course of about three weeks, and though I loved the cover designs, I did not really enjoy this series.

For some background, here’s the Goodreads synopsis of book one:

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

*SERIES SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*

Let me preface my review of this series by saying I’m a huge X-Men fan. So the idea of a character like Rogue (unable to touch anyone with her skin without killing them), reimagined into a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, had so much promise that I was about to burst with excitement. Unfortunately, I was let down by these books. They did not fulfil their potential by any stretch of the imagination.

First let’s talk about the writing. Mafi’s style is very descriptive and it relies a lot on metaphors and imagery. However it also uses the strike through tool to communicate thoughts that Juliette has, but takes back, even when they’re never actually said aloud. It’s like she won’t even let herself think what she wants to think or feel how she wants to feel. Some people may find this to be unique, but I found it to be exceedingly obnoxious. There were probably other techniques she could have used to communicate the same idea, but with less obvious force. To make matters worse, some of the beautiful prose she wrote was also heavy handed; metaphors should be graceful, not exaggerated and there were hundreds of bad examples throughout the series.

“My eyes break open. Two shattered windows filling my mouth with glass.”

“I’m wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face.”

“I gasp so loud I’ve swallowed an entire room in one breath.”

As a character, Juliette (main character and narrator) had a lot of potential. She starts off on the brink of mental collapse from the lack of human touch, loneliness, and starvation from spending almost a year in solitary confinement in a mental institution. That kind of trauma is deep, emotional, and intriguing to unravel over the course of a series. And while some of it was addressed, the author chose to utilize her mental recovery as a tool mostly for empowering Juliette into life threatening martyr-type actions. For someone with a solid foundation, Juliette could have gone so much deeper than she did. Her insecurity was understandable, her shyness expected, but the whining was non-stop. Especially when it came to the romantic plotline.

Which brings me to the love story. If you follow my blog at all, than you already know how much I hate love triangles. I don’t like being forced to pick teams and I think that the idea is way overplayed in Young Adult literature and television. (You can read a whole article I wrote about Teams in YA Media here.)Mafi pits Adam against Warner in this series, falling solidly into the love triangle trope. I was kind ok with that, but then it gets worse. In book one she adds a layer of “I’ve always loved you since we were little, even though I never actually spoke to you” and in book two Mafi reveals that Adam and Warner are actually long lost brothers. Combine that with the fact that they’re the only two people in the world who could possibly touch her without getting hurt (sort of) and you’ve just funneled so much drama onto one tiny aspect of what could have been a much cooler story that the whole idea of it becomes ludicrous and shallow. This twisted messed up romance then proceeded to dominate the entire series from start to finish, overshadow Juliette’s fragile mental state, ruin (at times) whatever independent self-confidence she’d manage to gain, and just completely put me off most of the plot.

So why did I finish it? Well, I was hoping that by book three we’d get a little more insight about the dystopian world Mafi had created. After all, I’m a sucker for those things. The failure of the Reestablishment and the hidden agenda of the supposedly rescue-oriented government intrigued me. I wanted to see if it was ever fully fleshed out. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t. Mafi created a world with a militaristic, big-government, homogenized set up. She gave it rebels with superhuman abilities and dissenters with years of frustration and starvation and then she made them fight back. But she failed to follow through at the end of the final book, leaving many questions unanswered. What’s to become of this now toppled society? Juliette may be their new all-powerful and (obviously) good-hearted leader, but what is the world physically to become? Will she just resume administration of the Reestablishment or will she completely dismantle it and endeavor to remake the world as it was before? We never get the answers to those questions or any glimpse of the world outside Warner’s particular district, though Mafi expects us to be comforted by the fact that, whatever happens, at least Warner will be at Juliette’s side. At least she’ll have her boyfriend in the undetermined future. Because that’s really what matters, isn’t it?

In the end, I think I should have known better before starting this series. And if not before, then definitely after the terribly exaggerated metaphors began to take over. Still, considering how popular it was around the BookTube and blogosphere communities, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and finished the series. I kept hoping that it would get better, banking on the fact that all those people couldn’t love a series if it was really that bad. No redeeming qualities were revealed however, so ultimately I would have to say that I would not recommend this book to others.

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