I like to keep bits of paper around me when I am reading. When I come across a particularly pleasing description, or a turn-of-phrase that gives me pause, I like to write it down in my notebook, on a scrap of paper, or even the back of my bookmark. I like to look back on them later and marvel at how the author was able to take seemingly ordinary words and put them together in a way that is unique and captivating. I write these quotes down maybe once or twice per book. But if I had tried to take note of every phrase that caught my eye when reading Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, I would have drowned in a sea of post-its.
Shatter Me, the powerful and darkly beautiful debut novel of Tahereh Mafi, is told from the eyes—and I would argue the heart—of 17 year-old Juliette. Juliette is no ordinary girl. Her touch is fatal and society has labeled her a monster. A murderer. Even though it was an accident, she has been locked away in isolation for exactly 264 days—she has counted every second. But on day 265 everything changes. A boy comes into her cell. Adam is strong, mysterious, and gorgeous. He is also the only person that has ever treated Juliette with any kindness. Adam tells her that the world has gotten even worse than she remembers. There is no food, people are living in compounds, the earth is dying… and the Reestablishment rules everything.
It isn’t difficult to see why this novel has been compared to a combination of The Hunger Games and X-Men. I am not ashamed to admit that is exactly what made me pick up this book as I am a fan of both. You may be thinking, “Dystopian future, hunky teenage boys, and a kickass female protagonist… What else is new?”. Well, let me tell you, this book is so much more than that.
I could go on for pages about what I loved about this book. The heart-pounding action, the oh-so-steamy romance, its commentary on the environmental crisis… The list goes on and on. But what truly captivated me was this book’s imagery. From the first chapter, I knew it was something special. Mafi’s metaphors are proof that something is more than simply the sum of its parts. She combines seemingly unrelated images and yet the words come together into metaphors that are so stunningly poignant and honest. Her unexpected combinations of words throw the world into sharp relief and make you examine it in a whole new light. These beautiful phrases ink every page. I wanted to devour these words, drink in every image, become drunk on their strangeness. It filled my senses and left me hungry for more.
In Shatter Me, Mafi has created a narrator whose voice is exceptionally singular and true to character with Juliette. Juliette has spent her entire life devoid of human contact with no one for company but herself. To top it off she has been shut away from the world in a cold, dark cell. The effect of this solitude comes across in her voice. Juliette’s isolation has made her a little crazy. She counts seconds, steps, heartbeats, fingers in an effort to have some semblance of control. She repeats her thoughts, crosses her thoughts out, repeats them again, and then changes her mind. Interestingly, it is her crossed out thoughts—the ones she is most terrified to accept as truths—that are the most candid. Juliette sees the world from a unique perspective because she has been kept separate from it for so long. Little things like sunlight, and fresh air—things normally taken for granted—give her joy. And the gentle touch of another human being is more precious to her than all the gold in the world. The reader has no trouble slipping right inside Juliette’s slightly crazed head and feeling what she feels. As this electrifying story takes off, your heart and Juliette’s will beat as one and adrenaline will pump into your veins until the very last page. For me, that is a testament of an exceptional read.
***This review first appeared on HarperCollins Canada’s blog: The Savvy Reader. Please find the original post here. ***