Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Shatter Me is definitely aimed at the Twilight set. The first-person heroine, Juliette, has a disorder that reminds me of Rogue from X-Men. When she touches someone, she inflicts pain on them and might kill them, so of course she’d convinced she’s a monster (just like Edward Cullen). When the book opens, she’s in solitary confinement at a cruel asylum. Then Adam, a boy she remembers from childhood, becomes her roommate, and they fall in love. The angst and tension of the first third of the book comes from the fact that she really wants to touch him and be close to him, but she’s afraid it will hurt him (eroticizing the tension between lust and restraint). Conveniently, Adam is able to touch her safely for some reason, which almost makes things too easy, but allows for some steamy scenes.
Shatter Me is superior to Twilight for its attention to language and its more feminist plot. Rather than piling on cliches, Mafi makes genuine attempts to talk about love in new ways. She’s not always successful, but a good bit of the time she comes up with some really nice phrases. There are some sentences and phrases that are crossed out, adding a layer of conscious revision to the narrative. Because of being confined and abused, Juliette is timid and observant and slow to trust. There’s an edge of insanity in her voice, especially in the first half of the book, that makes her words feel fresh and new. Instead of a heroine who constantly needs to be rescued, Shatter Me has one who is more powerful than her boyfriend, and who does her fair share of rescuing. When she hears that Adam is dead, she doesn’t get suicidal, but refuses to believe it, shoots her captor, and saves her man. In addition to avoiding damsel-in-distress syndrome, Juliette has concerns bigger than her relationship. The world she lives in is a dystopia plagued by environmental catastrophes, scarcity of resources, and a tyrannical government that is trying to use her as a torture device. She spends a good deal of time thinking about and worrying about these issues, demonstrating a strong moral backbone.
The villain, Warner, is an army leader who develops an attraction to Juliette and hopes she will cooperate with his plans for her. He tries to get under her skin and convince her she enjoys causing pain. He stages elaborate experiments and tests to see what she will do, but she maintains the moral high ground. He’s almost certainly in love with her, and there is an edge of attraction in the revulsion she feels for him; her denials of desiring power and strength are hard to believe 100%, and because it would complicate the good/evil dichotomy I hope the series that this book is opening goes there.
At the end of the novel, Juliette finds herself in the compound of the resistance movement, learning about others with unusual abilities and getting suited up in a skintight outfit that will protect others from her touch. The transition from the earlier parts of the novel, which was concerned with confinement, escape, evasion, to this perfect place isn’t very smooth. The later books in the series will be all about a group of young superheroes taking down the evil “Reconstruction.” I’ll read on with interest.