Official Summary: Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?
My Thoughts: Like most fans of the Shatter Me series, I had mixed feelings over the ending. It’s ambiguous, and yet it almost feels like Mafi leaves out the most important part. In continuing the series, Mafi seeks to rectify that. In fact, she aims to rectify a lot of the issues in the original three books. And yet, somehow, all it’s done is weaken the entire series as a whole. As compulsively readable as this book was, it failed to wow or even garner mild appreciation. Everything about this book fails, from the characters to the world-building to plot to the writing style. This is, without a shred of a doubt, Tahereh Mafi’s worst piece yet.
While I am perfectly happy to admit some of this may be due to the fact that my tastes have changed since 2015 (when I originally read the series), I can’t attribute my utter detestation of this book merely to that. I won’t take responsibility for another writer’s failures. And this book is, in every sense of the word, a failure. My only regret is that I’m in the minority in saying all this.
So, where did Mafi go wrong? I think it stems from a lack of planning, something that’s always been apparent in her books (or, at least, this series). Mafi made things up as she went along, contradicting herself at every turn. But there was still enough that was interesting about the first three books that made this issue fairly easy to ignore. Adding a new book and suddenly being stuck cleaning up the mess you made with the original series? Well, that made it impossible.
The first (and most egregious) level on which this book fails is the characterization. One thing I really loved about the previous three books was the character development undergone by Juliette and Warner (especially Juliette). Both characters grow by leaps and bounds. That development halted and backtracked in this book (not to mention the fact that they both make some of the dumbest decisions ever put to paper). Both characters are stuck in an infinite loop between self-doubt and self-confidence. Juliette spends half the book doubting her ability to be an effective Supreme Commander and the other half certain she can change the world. Her position changes on a dime. Now, given certain revelations, an emotional reaction is warranted. But her resolve never sticks, undone by the tiniest things— things even Shatter Me Juliette wouldn’t have batted an eye at.
Warner is stuck in the same vicious cycle. First, he’s torn about grieving his father. By the middle of the book, he’s over it. And then he has some relationship issues and he’s back to being torn over his feelings. Again, it’s natural to have an emotional reaction to things this major, but the same reaction twice in the same book? That’s just bad writing, plain and simple.
But it’s not just our two main characters with poor characterization. The new and existing side characters are also done dirty by this book— or rather, the whole series. I can’t tell you a single thing about Kenji, other than the fact that he’s sassy and a loyal friend. We finally get his backstory, and even that isn’t enough to make him a well-rounded character. But he’s the closest we get when it comes to side characters. Castle’s characterization falls victim to the world-building (which, believe me, we’ll get to). Suddenly, he’s a man with a lot of connections and even more secrets. This doesn’t line up with the man who just wanted to make the world a better place. The story tries and fails to justify this change.
Adam, Juliette’s former love interest, is now reduced to a minor character. He makes a total of two or three appearances in the entire book. As someone who has always hated Adam, I find this hilarious. But, as a reader and writer, this betrays a lack of planning and care. Ditto for James, Adam’s kid brother. What relevance do they have to this story? Absolutely none. Mafi really backed herself into a corner with this, even though their story had been rife with possibility.
The new characters don’t fair much better. The most important new characters we meet are Nazeera and her brother (who is so irrelevant, I can’t even remember his name) and Lena. And what can I tell you about any of them? Nazeera’s brother is charming, but confusing. He’s not even confusing in a mysterious way— his mood just changes out of nowhere. Nazeera has a similar issue. I have no idea what her motivations are. It’s clear she and her brother are supposed to be mysterious, but instead they come across as vague and unfinished. Moreover, we know Nazeera wears a hijab, but not why she’s flouting The Reestablishment’s laws. We know she can fly and turn invisible. We know she seems to want to help Juliette. But who is Nazeera? I haven’t the faintest.
Lena’s characterization is downright infuriating. She’s Warner’s ex and is understandably angry. But why does she have to be such a goddamn bitch? Lena treats Juliette like shit, no matter the situation. In fact, she’s kind of awful to everyone. And why? Just because. After all, the one thing this series was missing was a mean girl (yes, this is sarcasm). Lena is really just the culmination of all the characters fails in this book— irritating and pointless.
As if the characterization wasn’t bad enough, we also have the world-building. Now, there’s nothing really wrong with the world-building. It’s great to know how The Reestablishment works. The entire world is essentially run by one family per continent. It also provides a little more context for how long people with powers have been around. The problem is all this has come in the fourth book of the series. The lack of world-building was always a weak point for Shatter Me, but adding it now is just too little too late. It feels more like a response to criticism than a genuine attempt at fleshing out the world by Mafi. The narrative tries to excuse this by Juliette having been kept in the dark before, but that’s a flimsy excuse at best. If all of this had come up in book one, this would’ve been Restore Me’s one strong point. But alas, it’s nothing but an obvious attempt at respectability now.
Regarding the plot, well, there is none. Not even a character-driven plot. For the first half of the book, nothing happens. Then Juliette is attacked and a bunch of revelations are made. And then nothing happens for the rest of the book. Furthermore (no pun intended), said revelations were obvious as can be! I couldn’t fathom why Mafi was dragging it all out. It’s clear her only “plot” concept revolved around these revelations, so she just added filler around them. If that’s all you have for a book idea, you need to not write that book.
One thing I’ve concluded after disliking this book so thoroughly is that I only liked the original series for the writing style. It’s so lyrical and flowery, right up my alley. It also gives you a more direct insight into Juliette’s psyche. Instead of reading like “I did this and I thought that,” it was a beautiful and heartbreaking glimpse into the head of a broken girl putting herself back together. This book, for the most part, lacks that. It’s just straightforward prose. That’s not what I’ve signed up to read when I pick up a Mafi book. Thus, my favorite moments were the excerpts from Juliette’s old diary and the few moments when she loses it a little. Whenever she gets emotional, Juliette lapses back into that old lyrical flow. Without this writing style, the generic-ness of this series becomes too plain to ignore.
However, this book isn’t without any redeeming qualities. In fact, it has two distinct pluses: its comedy and its diversity. There are a few cute scenes that are pretty funny. It was this entertainment value (and the easy readability) that kept me reading. Even when I was rolling my eyes, I couldn’t put the book down. So, at least the book made me smile.
The diversity in this book is actually pretty good. Though mental illness representation has taken a backseat, there are more characters of color than ever! Nazeera and her family are Middle-Eastern, likely Iranian like Mafi herself. Nazeera is also Muslim. Kenji is Japanese-American. Castle is a black man. However, the queer representation leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Mafi is doing important things, providing representation that people of color often don’t get. Overall, I’d say this book is pretty damn diverse.
As cruel as it sounds, this book is a gross waste of paper. Imagine all the trees that would still be alive had this pointless series addition not been written. Okay, fine, I’m just being facetious (mostly). But this book was more than just a disappointment— it was a travesty. The characterization is terrible, the world-building jarring, the plot nonexistent, and the writing bland. There is nothing about this book that compels me to want to read the next book. Maybe someday I will, but I doubt it. I just can’t see willingly shattering (pun intended this time) my original perception of this series any further. Because, as it stands now, the only thing this book restored was my dissatisfaction with young adult literature.
My Rating: 2/5