Sex and Destruction in Shatter Me

I’ve written a little bit previously about Young Adult literature. It’s a ripe field for the pickings, with its mainstream appeal as well as a litany of problematic story elements. It also can be really addictive. Most of the genre is leaning towards science fiction/fantasy at the moment, centering on young women in impossible situations, with fast-moving plots and titillating romances. The YA market has become one of my favorite indulgences.

Enter Shatter Me, written by youthful and beautiful new author Tahereh Mafi, one of the most anticipated releases of last year, already with two sequels (the novella Destroy Me, and the second part in the planned trilogy Unravel Me which dropped last week), and the movie rights sold before the first book’s release. It is the story of a 17-year-old girl named Juliette Ferrars with an uncontrollable and isolating ability – she can kill with a touch. To make matters worse, Juliette lives in a world that has depleted its resources and poisoned its atmosphere, leaving it open for an organization called The Reestablishment to come in and take control and hoard what’s left. When the novel opens, Juliette has been imprisoned in some sick hell house version of a mental institution for close to a year, barely clinging to her identity, wishing for freedom and love.

Shatter Me is the type of YA fantasy that is light on world building and high on emotion and elaborate prose. It’s not perfect, to say the least. What I found fascinating about the novel though was its implications about sexuality.

What’s immediate striking to me is how the novel as a real sense of sexuality and sensuality. A personality, shall we say. However, there is also a theme of dominance and violence that colors this, and creates a character that is both heavily defined by her sexuality and by actions put upon her. As she learns to connect with people for the first time in her life, Juliette is repeatedly defined as an object, seen as something others can use and act upon, even in a relationship that supposed to healthy and loving. Through the story elements as well as the dialogue and prose, a picture is painted of a sexual landscape fed by power struggles and destructive passions. It’s also an important aspect of the novel, as this is a story about a young woman who can either create or destroy with a touch.

(Spoilers for Shatter Me and Destroy Me under the cut)

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