Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever.The story opens with Juliette living in appallingly poor conditions in a mental hospital/prison where she’s been thrown thanks to her superpower of being able to hurt and kill people with the touch of her bare skin. Then the dystopian government (or one specific leader there of) decides to use her as a weapon. Adam, a childhood sort-of-friend of Juliette’s, works his way into the army so that he can be close to her with the hope of breaking her out.
Distopia is as dystopia does.
Shatter Me suffered from a touch of nonsensical-dystopian-worldbuilding-itis. The US has become a military dictatorship for no clear reason (climate change was mentioned but didn’t seem to be a severe contributing factor). As is usual in these situations, the rest of the world almost doesn’t seem to exist (other countries are mentioned in passing eventually, though not so we’d know what was happening there). And, of course, the people in power, especially the leader Juliette interacts directly with, seem to be evil. How original. Sorry, but I’m a bit sick of this sort of world building. It started more promisingly when Juliette was still locked in her cell.
What is more promising is the style in which the story is told. It’s in first person and Juliette constantly speaks in hyperbolic metaphors. She also second guesses herself a lot, particularly at the start, so that
Juliette’s attitude of disgust towards herself and her abilities was perfectly understandable. She never meant to hurt anyone and the fact that she can accidentally would be difficult to come to terms with. What did bother me a little bit was the instant feelings she had towards Adam when he showed up, but this was mitigated by the fact that she did in fact remember him from her childhood.
Warner, the local leader of the dystopian government, was a pretty good villain. He was appropriately power-hungry and creepily obsessed with Juliette. And good at hurting Juliette both intentionally and as a side-effect of being a power-hungry maniac.
Right up until the end I wasn’t sure if I would bother reading the sequel. I didn’t hate the reading experience overall, but neither did I love the story. However, it ended on a promising note, which is currently swaying me towards wanting to know more (when it comes out in paperback… if they keep the same pretty covers), pending friends’ reviews, perhaps. All in all, I’ve definitely read worse YA dystopian books. I think Mafi uses both the twist of Juliette’s abilities and the hyperbolic narrator’s voice well to distinguish her book from others in the genre.
I recommend Shatter Me to fans of YA dystopias. Particularly to those who might be looking for something a bit more interesting in terms of stylistic choices. I am interested to see where the series goes — apart from the obvious bringing down the government, I’m not entirely sure. Not a terrible read, but not one of my favourites.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, Harper Collins US (Allen & Unwin in Australia)
Series: The Juliette Chronicles, book 1 of 3
Format read: paperback, US edition (as pictured above — the Australian covers are pretty terrible, especially in comparison)
Source: Christmas present (requested)
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I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
In I Am Number Four, Lorien, a planet which is smaller than Earth but for some reason hosted aliens similar to humans and had similar gravity, is attacked and obliterated by evil aliens from another planet. The Loriens fail to defend themselves, somehow, despite having spaceships and magic powers and despite the fact that the battle is fought on the surface, pretty much had to had but with bonus hellbeasts. Also, the flashbacks to the apocalyptic war are exceedingly trite and shallow. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that Four gains a whole lot of understanding and compassion just from watching a battle? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When the planet was lost, the Loriens managed to smuggle out nine children and their (non-magical) protectors to Earth. Before they left, a
I would definitely call it science fantasy of maybe superhero fiction, but I’ve seen a few superhero movies that gave a more significant nod to physics than I Am Number Four did (including its own movie which left out some of the WTFier bits). I’m not a fan of science fiction without any accurate science at all, so that didn’t help. But the action isn’t too bad and I didn’t find the book actively offensive. The writing is distinctly pedestrian with stilted dialogue and bursts of summarised conversation which were less fun to read through than the proper dialogue (eg “I told her blah and she said that blah and I agreed”).
I wanted to like I Am Number Four, but I didn’t by the end. The beginning drew me in, but it went downhill from the first Lorien flashback and didn’t manage to climb out again. It didn’t make me all that angry, though, which is a bit surprising given that it did drive me to skimming pages of battle. In the end it was entertaining enough to earn it an extra half-star.
I think I Am Number Four would be enjoyed by readers who like action and don’t like to think too hard about what they’re reading. Or younger teens who are less judgemental of quality. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more when I was 12 or 13.
3 / 5 stars
First published: 2010, Penguin
Series: The Lorien Legacies, book 1 of 3
Format read: ebook
Source: Penguin Thriller Trilogy (not actually a trilogy, but a pack of three books), purchased from iBooks on impulse
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Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti
This book is part of Twelfth Planet Press’s “Twelve Planets” series. It is a collection of five short stories all set in a common world. I bought the ebook version and it’s also available in paperback and for Kindle.
Bad Power is set (mostly) in modern Sydney in a world where some people have an inexplicable power: talking to dead people, seeing the future, immortality, and a few less common powers. And, although most of the protagonists have super powers, none of them are heroes (well, with one possible exception).
A few words about each of the stories:
Shades of Grey
The first thing that struck me about Biancotti’s writing when I started reading this story was the cinematic quality of the mental images it conjured up. The opening story grabbed me from the first paragraph and thrust me into the collection.
In “Shades of Grey” we meet Esser Grey, a wealthy businessman who recently discovered his power and is testing the limits (and not really finding any). We also meet detective Palmer, a recurring character throughout the collection who keeps being given the weird cases. (I enjoyed the continuity of seeing Palmer in later stories and also the mentions of Grey later on.) This story really sets the scene for the rest of the collection.
Palming the Lady
In this story, a young medical student, Matthew Webb, goes to the police and is directed to detective Palmer. He is being stalked by a homeless woman who knows where he’s going to be and gets there before he does. But his future isn’t he only future she sees.
Web of Lies
We meet Matthew again, this time just after his father’s death when he and his mother and discovering how to live again, free from the old man’s dictatorship. They both struggle with it in different ways and both learn there is more power in their family than they had realised.
As a side note, Matthew is mentioned in passing the last two stories. After the tumultuous stories in which he played a central role, it was nice to read that he had a slightly more stable future ahead of him. A neat way of letting us know that it was all OK in the end.
This is the only story not set in modern Sydney and also the only one written in first person. It also stood out for me as being the one story with a less thoroughly described setting — I was slightly confused about the time period it was set in, but turns out my first instinct was correct.
It’s a story about someone with a self-described “bad” power and about the horrible things people do to each other. This was easily the most horrific story in the collection and, for that reason, my least favourite. However, the link the previous and subsequent stories made it a relevant and integral part of the collection. I think without this story, the whole collection would have felt slightly more bland. (And it does make a good title for the collection as a whole.)
Cross That Bridge
This was the story that, when I heard a brief description on Galactic Suburbia, made me want to read the whole collection. Max works for the police. His power is the ability to find lost children, even when there is no discernible trail. As one might imagine, people find his talent creepy and he is constantly under suspicion.
It’s hard to choose a favourite story in this collection. Aside from “Bad Power”, they read almost like chapters from the same book (except with resolutions and different protagonists). The idea of normal people discovering superpowers isn’t a new one (cf Heroes), nor is the idea of an organisation such as the Grey Institute hinted at in the background throughout the collection (cf X-Men, Union Dues, etc). However, Biancotti pulls the world off uniquely and fascinatingly.
I really enjoyed the exploration of human nature and the wildly different coping mechanisms the powered characters employ. My favourite take home message? Power is not always empowerment.
4.5 / 5 stars