Review of “Shatter Me,” “Unravel Me” and “Ignite Me” by Tahereh Mafi

Note: There are no significant spoilers in this review, except as marked.

I think this author is a very talented writer. The story is good, even though sometimes the characters act imperfect (and thus very realistic) rather than being what you would like them to be. These are complicated people, and Mafi is adept at using short word-impressions to capture the essence of a description.

This is a YA trilogy narrated by Juliette Ferrars, a 17-year-old who has been imprisoned by “The Reestablishment,” the power faction that is supposed to renew the dying society. But, as with most dystopias, the new group in control has become drunk on power and despotic.

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In this future scenario, the ecosystem has become severely distorted by human abuse, and one of the effects is that some people have developed “special abilities” that are not normal. In Juliette’s case, if she touches anyone, that person will die. Eventually she meets a whole group of others who have special abilities like she does. She learns that as the world changed, so did the energy within it. Matter is never created or destroyed, but it can change into different forms; she and the others with gifts have absorbed this energy in different ways, and they must learn to harness it and use it to restore freedom to the world.

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I had some complaints, but they are extremely spoilery. SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS:

One: All of the three main protagonists have personality changes throughout the series. I thought that the “unraveling” of Juliette and Warner seemed reasonable and well explained. Adam, on the other hand, has a big personality change that does not seem true to who he was in Book One, or even “fair” to his character. And for Juliette to conclude that Adam never loved her? Just not fair. Two, Juliette – confronted with this new Adam, gets all outraged when he “insults” her, but at the same time (a) did indeed betray Adam with Warner; and (2) has been understanding and accepting of any abuse Warner heaped upon her. Three: What was up with the bird dream and tattoo? They were never explained except as serving to “connect” Juliette and Adam to Warner, but where did they come from? The whole coincidence of their appearances was dropped. Four: The X-Men aspects of the plot took over at the end; I would have preferred more realistic developments to a denouement dependent on techno-whiz-bang special effects. The latter doesn’t do much for me, and is a bit too deus-ex-machina for my tastes.

END OF SPOILERS

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Discussion: In spite of the complaints I had, I appreciate Mafi’s writing, and I thought the beauty and skill of it compensated for my gripes about perceived plot problems (which after all I would not have cared about, had I not liked the story so much). I love the way the text appears as if it consists of actual stream of consciousness, including cross-outs to indicate thoughts Juliette has but doesn’t want to have, and the skilled (rather than hackneyed) use of metaphorical expressions of feelings.

(And a lot of the story does focus on Juliette’s feelings to the exclusion of, and insensitivity to, those around her. But Juliette’s self-absorption and her struggle to overcome that is one of the main themes of the books.)

I also liked the way the author handled the (very) erotic sequences. There is almost no description on what goes on; rather, we just infer from the reactions of Juliette to what she sees and what she feels, and they are romantic as well as sensual:

“He shifts his weight to one arm, uses his free hand to softly stroke my cheek, to cup my face like it’s spun from glass and I realize I’m still holding my breath and I can’t even remember the last time I exhaled.

His eyes shift down to my lips and back again. His gaze is heavy, hungry, weighed down by emotion I never thought him capable of. I never thought he could be so full, so human, so real. But it’s there. It’s right there. Raw, written across his face like it’s been ripped out of his chest.

He’s handing me his heart.”

Evaluation: I thought this trilogy showed a great deal of creativity, a lovely depiction of young romance, and a nice exploration of different kinds of family, love, and friendship. (The friendship between Juliette and one of the male characters, Kenji, is especially gratifying because the author doesn’t feel the need to make Kenji gay in order for the female lead to love him as a friend.) Although this is a dystopia, there is less emphasis on world-building and more on how three kids who grew up abused by cruel parents learn to love and respect themselves and others. And there’s plenty of (very euphemistic) steaminess for those who like their character studies with heat….

Rating: 4/5

Note: These are not standalones, and should be read all together.

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2011, 2013, 2014

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4 Responses to Review of “Shatter Me,” “Unravel Me” and “Ignite Me” by Tahereh Mafi

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I just don’t know if I want to get into yet another dystopian trilogy. My sister would probably love this one though.

  2. I second what BermudaOnion says. I don’t think I’m capable of giving dystopian trilogies a fair reading at this point. Maybe I should proclaim an official hiatus from them for the next, I dunno, year? Six months?

    • I have to say I am starting to feel the same way. Recently I turned aside two “volume three” books of dystopian trilogies because I just couldn’t stomach the idea….

  3. yup, I’m on board with Kathy and Jenny. I’m so over vampires {although I JUST finished The Book of Life}; dystopian, and trilogies that are not all available so I don’t have to wait to read the final book {sheesh! what a run-on sentence! you’d think I never studied English} 😀 BUT I have to say your review is quite intriguing and omg the covers are phenomenal!

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