Last month, one of my coworkers and I agreed to swap books that we love. Mine to her was The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Hers to me was the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi. We all know young adult trilogies are generally not my favorite, especially when they have some type of dystopian world included, but I figured if my coworker genuinely loved this series, I would give it a shot for her.
The truth is, now that I’m finally finished reading it, I have so many mixed emotions about this series. I’m glad to have read it, mostly because the series holds such a big place in my coworker’s heart. And I do think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read it when it initially came out, when dystopian YA was at its biggest.
I adored the writing style in most of the books, and that’s ultimately what kept me invested in the series. There were characters I couldn’t stand that everyone else loved, and it took me most of the series to finally understand the hype around those characters. The books all have their own strengths and weaknesses, so I felt it was fair to review them individually. As a heads up, this post will be long.
I absolutely loved the prose here and felt it was Mafi’s strongest writing. The book is written through Juliette’s perspective, like she’s writing in her journal, so there are a lot of lines that are completely crossed out. The strikeouts were annoying at first, but they gradually become less and less throughout the book (and are almost completely absent throughout the rest of the series!).
Honestly, the writing was about the only redeeming quality of this first book. It follows the typical young-adult dystopia plot (average teenage white girl gangs up with friends to overthrow the government). There’s very little worldbuilding here; we’re given snippets of what’s happened, but since Juliette has been in isolation her entire life, she has no idea what really went on so…neither do we. The first half of the book is incredibly slow, and the second half is action-packed and very clearly left on a cliffhanger. I neither loved nor hated her relationship with Adam, although I had to give it props because it isn’t quite insta-love since they’ve known each other since their childhoods.
I was absolutely not a fan of Warner from the very beginning, and I’m not sorry. I knew they were going to wind up together, but I didn’t understand why fans were fawning over him so desperately. He literally threatened to sexually assault Juliette while he held her captive. I found it creepy that he was so apparently in love with her after knowing her for two days, and the fact that he couldn’t take no for an answer said a lot about his character.
Rating: ★★★, wasn’t blown away with it like the majority of people, but I also read it a decade after it came out which might be why I felt like it had lost its spark.
This was a novella taking place between the first and second book, and it was told through Warner’s perspective. It’s well done, but I had a difficult time really hearing Warner’s voice in this. I think for a lot of people this book helped sway them onto Team Warner if they weren’t already, as it gives him more depth and some background that we’d been missing from the first book. However, there was nothing that could be done to redeem him for me. He gained zero sympathy from me. He doesn’t magically become a deep, complex character just because his childhood sucked. I’m also not sure why (maybe because he was an actual child that was in charge of an entire sector?) but my brain automatically assumed he was middle-aged and not 19, and I could not get past that, so I found their relationship even more disgusting.
Rating: ★★, could have done without reading this as I felt it added nothing to the story.
The second book in the series was the best for me, which isn’t too common in dystopian trilogies as it’s usually the filler. However, I found this to be the strongest writing of the series. It packed the most punches, the plot moved quickly, and I loved the entire cast. Kenji, who I found slightly annoying as the comic relief in the first book, was a breath of fresh air here. His relationship with Juliette was my favorite, as they joked and made jabs at each other but could always bounce back to having deep conversations. His was probably the most realistic relationship with Juliette of everyone, and it was nice to not have the story be so encompassed with romance.
I will say Adam was not my favorite, as he was a neutral, safe choice for Juliette, and I didn’t care too much for their scenes together. It was also difficult to root for them to be together when I knew which direction the author would turn the series.
The weakest of the novellas (and why I didn’t read any others beyond this one). This time we see the story through Adam’s perspective, but it really missed the mark. Half of the 72 pages were an exact copy/paste from the second book, only this time there would be an additional line thrown in like, “I looked over at Juliette and she seemed upset.” We gained almost nothing from this novella.
Despite thinking Adam is safe and maybe even boring, I believe he does have some depth, and unfortunately we never git to see it. I didn’t understand the point of this novella at all.
This is the highest-rated book in the series, but I really struggled through it. At this point, Juliette had full-blown Stockholm Syndrome from Warner, and I couldn’t get past it. I didn’t care about their sex scenes (but I do have to give Mafi credit, as the writing is arguably the best during them), and while I understand emotions are high during times of war and stress, they jumped each other’s bones at the worst times. I also got tired of Warner constantly brooding and how often Juliette went back and forth with him. It was obvious they would be together, so there was not point with either of them thinking they wouldn’t be.
I especially disliked how forced the love triangle was. Adam was always a sensible and safe choice for Juliette, but in this book he was a completely different person, dramatic and childish and cruel, so the reader would turn on him and root for Warner. Simultaneously, Warner became a warmer person with even more background and depth so you naturally begin to feel he’s a better fit. He might be damaged goods, but at least he’s stable and nice sometimes, right? (That’s a joke, he’s not either of those things) I don’t know why Juliette had to choose either of them, honestly. Imagine being seventeen and overthrowing your government, and your biggest concern is about which boy you like more. What’s most unfortunate is that the plot had really picked up and had potential, but the bulk of the book was about their romance and the forced love triangle instead.
I was ambivalent about this franchise being given an additional three books after the trilogy had ended, but this was surprisingly one of my favorites of the entire series. The characters were the most fleshed out they’ve ever been, there were no awkward love triangles, and Juliette finally realized her true potential and used it to become an incredible, strong leader. She was no longer the shy, broken teenager from the first book, and I enjoyed seeing her grow throughout the series and especially in Restore Me.
There were also so many new aspects to the story, which was refreshing. I loved meeting all the new characters and learning even more about the world this series takes place in. There’s so much depth here, which was surprising after the plateau of the third book.
The only reason I didn’t give this a full five-star rating was because the chapters alternate between Juliette and Warner, and we all know how I feel about him. They spent a lot of time apart in this book, so I appreciated getting both perspectives and learning new information instead of learning about it when Juliette learns about it from Warner. However, I felt that Warner’s perspective wasn’t perfect and blended too easily into Juliette’s. What I loved most about the first book was the gorgeous prose, and all of that was completely gone by the time we hit book four. The prose gave Juliette her voice, and without it her chapters and Warner’s felt almost interchangeable.
Okay I FINALLY GET THE WARNER HYPE. Every single part of him that I hated is completely gone, and I finally found his relationship with Juliette to be believable and genuine. Do I feel some minor gaslighting from Mafi? Honestly a little. It reminded me of the Snape arc that turned him from a bully to a loveable hero.
Anyway, both characters have gone through so much growth throughout this series and seem to be the best versions of themselves they’ve ever been, which had me actually rooting for them for once. I really appreciated that their relationship was also largely put on the backburner in this book, because it felt way less overwhelming than in the earlier books, and we got to focus on the plot. They were just a couple going through a war, not two people struggling with their emotions while there happened to be an uprising happening in the distance.
Initially I was hesitant about this book, because it’s split between Kenji, Warner, and Juliette, and most of the book consists of memories, but I surprisingly found myself enjoying them. I think discovering those memories connected so many pieces of the puzzle. There’s even more history and world building here, which I’m a total sucker for. I have to give Mafi credit because she really knows how to write a tense, believable world that you get pulled into so easily.
Despite how serious and dark this book is (arguably the heaviest hitter of the series), Kenji was still the star of the show, making me smirk and sometimes outright laugh, even in the most intense of scenes.
“I’m not sure,” she says. “But it looks like we’re somewhere over the general vicinity of sectors 200 through 300.” She looks at Aaron. “Do you have any friends in this region?”
Aaron shoots her a dark look. “I have friends nowhere.”
“Zero people skills,” Kenji mutters.
I feel like everything I knew about the Shatter Me world has been completely erased with this book. I half-expected this to be some kind of dream sequence, because there’s no explanation for what happened here. All of the characters rapidly reverted back to who they were at the beginning of the series. Warner without Juliette is a downright bully; Juliette is weak and incapable of standing up for herself; even a majority of the side characters either fell to the wayside or were unrecognizable. Where was Adam or Castle? Why did Kenji suddenly start cursing and have an attitude that we’d never seen from him before? I have so many questions.
The plot in this book is also easily the weakest. The ending of Defy Me had so much promise, and I figured this final book would wrap up things neatly and nicely. Instead, we’re left with even more unanswered questions because the plot deviated so hard and had to wrap up new characters and drama in rapid succession. It just didn’t work or make any sense.
I wasn’t completely overjoyed with how the original trilogy ended, so I was curious to see how the story continued. Books four and five were good in their own ways, but this completely ruined it all over again for me.