Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi, surprised me. I normally don't read dystopian, and I have to admit, at first I had a hard time with the scratch-through text. But...once I got into this story, I loved it.
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.
Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what The Reestablishment needs right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
Here are a few of the writing lessons I learned from this book:
- Style and voice stand out--This book has style up the wazoo. Unique scratch-through text. Lack of punctuation where you'd expect it. Rule-breaking numbers written as numbers instead of spelled out. Some cases where there's a series of one word lines. And the voice totally separates this book from others. So internal, and bursting with passion and emotion.
- Create an uncomfortable bind between protagonist and antagonist--The villain, Warner, represents the bigger villain, The Reestablishment. He points out something to Juliette that's disturbing: they both gain power from killing other people. She gains physical power when she touches someone, and Warner gains social power when he kills others. People fear them and think they're both monsters. This complexity adds to Juliette's doubt and confusion.
- Teens girls still love a swoon-worth guy--Confession: I swooned over Adam (in a non-cougar way, of course). Not all girl teen readers like this, I know, but a lot of them do. As a teen, I loved a hunky guy thrown into the mix, and that hasn't changed. But he can't just be a hunk for hunk's sake. He should be conflicted and flawed. There should be a logical reason why he only has eyes for the female protagonist. In this case, Adam and Juliette share a forgotten past and similar feelings of neglect. I thought the romance angle of this story was beautifully done.
- Add a unique symbol of hope--Juliette hopes and dreams that one day she'll see a "white bird with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head." She's seen this in her dreams. And later, when she sees this tattoo on another character, she feels hope. That one day she will see this bird fly again.
- Unpredictable plot turns rule--I play a strange game when I'm reading a book: Guess The Plot Turn. But in this book, there wasn't a single plot turn that I saw coming. I eagerly turned the pages, wondering what would happen next. Mafi did a great job of sending me on an unpredictable journey.
- Sprinkle backstory, don't dump--We've heard this tip so often, but this story was another great reminder. There were all kinds details that remained a mystery until later in the story. But I loved that. Even now, there are things about the character and world that I don't know yet. And that's ok. The author told me what she needed me to know at that point, and left just enough out to keep me curious. I'm ready for book #2.
Have you read Shatter Me yet? If so, what were your thoughts? And if you've learned a writing lesson from a great book, we'd all love to hear it!