I recently began my reread of Shatter Me with the intent of exposing how disturbing this book truly is. Not as many people as I would prefer really talk about how damaging it is to have a novel in YA that romanticizes abuse and, unfortunately, this book is talked about even less. The truth is, the Shatter Me Series is a tale about falling in love with your abuser, forgiving their horrific behavior, and finding yourself in an extremely damaging-to-your-health relationship.
The author, Tahereh Mafi, manipulates and destroys her characters all for the sake of presenting the abuser as someone for the main character, Juliette, to love. In changing the core of the characters she presented us with in the beginning, she also manipulates her readers into feeling sorry for the abusive party. This is to the point that we begin to forget how truly abusive he is. In its own ironic way, this is actually a tactic that abusers use to keep their romantic partners from leaving them.
It is deeply disturbing to me that only a select few actually recognize this.
Now, chapter one doesn’t have the most obvious instances of abuse romanticism. The truth is, we do not even meet Warner until chapter eight. But there are some interesting and important things that arise in the beginning chapters. And even Adam, whom I initially liked the first time I read this novel, is not without some serious faults. Regardless, Juliette has been locked up for nearly a year. Her mental state has devolved as a result of being isolated for two hundred and sixty-four days. That’s a lot of time to be alone. And if you’re someone who has also lived a life of ostracization as she had before being locked away, it can be immensely damaging and traumatic. This is a girl who has known nothing but neglect and abuse her whole life.
Warner, who researched her, would have been very aware of this.
For someone who had been abused himself, you’d think he would be capable of a little more empathy and tact with how he treats her. You would think that he would not want to subject her to added pain. But no. Instead, he is a demon come to torture her further. And his first act is to send someone else in to do his dirty work.
Now, honestly, as I think back to the fact that I liked Adam the first time I read this book, I find myself regretting it somewhat in this first chapter. Juliette is terrified. She is beside herself with fear to the point that she falls from her bed and runs to the corner of the room. She is doing everything she possibly can to make herself smaller, less visible, to hide. This is not something to laugh at, and yet that is the first thing he does. Is this truly something he finds amusing? What does that tell us about his character? And worse, he steals from her the moment he enters the room. After everything she has been through, they force someone into the only bit of safety she has–her isolation–and he pulls this shit?
She’s shaking with terror and his response is to steal her bed, pillow, and blanket?
I’ll likely give Adam credit, later, for being less of a shitty person. But here? Well, he’s an asshole. He’s unnecessarily cruel and it genuinely infuriates me. To do something like this to a stranger who has been locked away and tormented is a disgusting thing to do. But here’s the thing; this is Warner’s experiment. Warner sent Adam in here to determine whether or not Juliette is truly “crazy.” And Adam? Well, he doesn’t exactly have any idea what to expect from Juliette. For all I know, he expected her to attack him and did this as is own way of exerting dominance to prevent her from trying to hurt him.
And I’ll give him this much: the proper way to approach this situation would have been with doctors. Adam had very little at his disposal to protect himself–other than his strength, but I’m not going to go there and assume–and nothing about this situation was respectable. Adam was not the one running the show. He didn’t decide that he should go in there and figure out whether the girl locked away for nearly a year after murdering a child is mentally sound. Warner decided this. No psychological experts were brought in. There was no concern whatsoever for her mental state (other than whether she would be useful to Warner) and certainly no thought to Adam’s safety. After all, for all they know, she truly is insane and might kill him on the spot.
So, Adam is cruel to her when he first meets her. But I can at least say, if he knows anything of why she’s locked up, this reaction of his is possibly one made out of fear and a desire to keep himself safe. I don’t approve or like it, but I can understand it. Especially when the man calling the shots is the one who refuses to do the right thing and bring in mental health professionals.
And that’s all for chapter one! I’ll be dissecting chapter two next Saturday so keep an eye out!