Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette has a curse. When she touches another person, she absorbs their energy. Since a terrible incident when she was younger, Juliette’s been locked away and isolated in an asylum to protect others from her. Until she gets a roommate. A boy roommate. Juliette tries to keep her distance from Adam, but he’s just so clueless. Or… is he? Because the next thing Juliette knows, their both being pulled from the asylum to work for a deranged military commander named Warner, and Adam seems pretty chummy with the other soldiers.

This book felt like such an X-men meets Delirium kind of story. Juliette is literally Rogue. The romance is what makes it feel like Delirium. There’s the tyrannical government sectioning people off, only allowing them to live in Zoned in Areas. I forget what it’s called in Delirium, but in Shatter Me, the governing body goes by the Reestablishment. They limit personal freedoms and people live in squalor in the name of protection from a world ruined by people. Then both of the love interests names start with “A”, and the steamy love scenes just felt so similar and had really similar dialogue. I don’t know, it’s just what it reminded me of.

Juliette’s been in the asylum since she was 13, so her tendency toward hyperbole is understandable. What’s really impressive is Mafi’s handling of the internal dialogue. She manages to convey Juliette’s naivete without making her seem juvenile. Mafi’s writing is poetic and hypnotic, and while I’m not usually a fan of writing in vernacular or purposefully messing with grammar to make a point, but Mafi does it so beautifull. Instead of thought and ideas coming in a sudden rush, like with many writers who write to mimic thought patterns, Mafi has a way of slowing the thoughts down and giving them space to breathe.

Adam’s reason for loving Juliette is the same reason that I don’t love her as a character; she’s whole-heartedly and unfailingly good. She has this power to hurt people, and it’s terrible, but people have also alienated her because of it for her entire life. Any normal person would have considered retaliating, especially when she’s taken by Warner. Any interesting character would have an internal struggle over the issue. But Juliette is uncomplicated this way, and as such, loses what would have been the most compelling part of her character.

The pacing is phenomenal. The author is so aware of the purpose that every even must serve to the story. She’s aware that every moment must mean some learning or action item for Juliette and it must help the reader to discover something new about his world. This knowledge is also helpful for the necessary world-building aspect of a dystopian. The exposition is delivered within the context of the story, not set aside to be synthesized on its own.

I’m excited to see where the story goes next. We leave Juliette and Adam in a promising place for character development and upcoming action. This book is fun, if familiar. The familiarity of it lends a sense of safety, like we know how this will end. I hope the author uses those expecations to her advantage and surprises us with the next installment. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend to those looking for a steamy YA, with a quickly moving plot and beautiful writing.

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The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

This review was originally posted on Online Book Club, and the original review can be found here.

In The Last City of America, a virus has rendered most of the human race sterile, leading to widespread panic and chaos. The United States government has been disassembled and the Seven Cities of America, where corruption and oppression run deep, were established. Meanwhile, the secretive Rush University in Chicago, the birthplace of the original Hephaestus virus, has been working to further scientific advancement and destroy what’s left of humanity.

This book is macabre and depressing. In fiction, the villain is rarely out to ruin the world just for the sake of ruining it. They’re usually vengeful and angry, or they think that they’re doing something terrible that will eventually pay off in some great gain. Not in this book. The people in power in this novel are just crazy and they enjoy manipulating and ruining lives for the funsies. And while we’re talking about characters, it’s important to talk about how female characters are represented in the novel. There are few female characters, and none of them have any ambition. They’re placed as plot points to further the ambitions of the men in the novel. Language used to discuss these women is disgusting and gives me the heebie-jeebies. These women need to be fleshed out as full characters and less objectified in order to work.

Little effort is made at world-building. The reader is dropped into the Seven Cities with very few contextual clues as to the history and customs of this new post-apocalyptic world. The author does have a good understanding of long-term story development. Pacing is not usually the strongest skill in debut authors, but this author’s ability to effectively establish and follow the pace kept it moving along. I’m not usually a fan of point of view changes or the short chapters (think Dan Brown style), but it was an important tool in this story because of the geographic diversity and number of significant players.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because it’s a decent story and the pacing is good, but I need more in terms of character fleshing and world-building.

Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin

Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin, is the first novel in a fantasy series. When Andy was younger, he was struck by lightning. Now he can’t get anywhere near technology without it failing to work. That’s my theory about why his father’s teleportation device transported him to another world. In this other world, he is captured and tortured, but he also befriends a powerful dragon who, when Andy is mortally wounded, helps him be reborn as a dragon.

The writing was just confusing, but I don’t think it was the translation. The translation was actually handled really well; grammatically, everything made sense and the writing style was eloquent, but nothing made sense in terms of actual events and dialogue. For example, near the beginning of the story we find out that Andy’s dad works on a government project to build a teleportation device. I was not only surprised that Andy knew about his dad’s super secret, classified government project, but the internal dialogue he when he was transported someplace unfamiliar by accident was almost entirely non-sequitur. Things that were said didn’t fit well with events happening, so I had to read things multiple times to try and piece together what point the author was trying to make.

This author broke up the story too much with the star breaks. There was a set of stars at least every three pages. If you’re using that many breaks, you likely should consider adding more events to a certain time point, or not cutting to a different character. For example, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the scene with Andy’s father at work. Leave your audience in the same position Andy is, wondering what happened. It could have been explained with more effect if it had been saved for later in the story, and it would have reduced the number of breaks and point of view changes that pull readers out of a story.

I like Andy a lot. Except for the fact that he’s good at everything (which is annoying), he’s relatable. He likes to frustrate people who deserve to be frustrated and his meltdown in the forest is almost exactly how I would react to the situation. His love for his family is also admirable. On that note, I wish we had spent more time with Andy than switching POVs. Switching back and forth is distracting, but also keeping readers in the dark about things going on elsewhere in the novel can be more powerful for building suspense.

I rate Becoming the Dragon 2 out of 5 stars. This story would be okay for younger teens or older children. It’s not quite complex enough for a YA designation, but the characters may be too old and the vocabulary too advanced for younger children to relate to. I didn’t enjoy the story mostly because it didn’t make sense most of the time. While there were few technical errors, there were many non-sequitur moments that made this story hard to follow. The story also had pacing problems and I don’t like changes in point of view. Some redeeming qualities were the likability of characters and the amount of fun the premise of the story is.

This review was originally published on Online Book Club and can be viewed here.