Tell Me More:Secrets are the most valuable of high school social currency, andLife by Committeeis all about trading and burying them. Losing oneself i...moreTell Me More: Secrets are the most valuable of high school social currency, and Life by Committee is all about trading and burying them. Losing oneself in such a story isn't as easy with an unsympathetic character, however, and the story doesn't manage to raise itself above it.
Tabitha is an enigma of a character, and not always in a good way. The reasons for her sudden outcast status are murky, and leave a lot for the reader to imagine. It's confusing at best and frustrating at worst. Though I could put off the frustration while reading, there were definitely points where it was hard to muster up any empathy for her. To an extent, teens can be oblivious to important things--it's part and parcel of growing up. But Tabitha brought it to some unbelievable levels. Her love and appreciation for her parents comes in direct contrast with her actions later in the novel, and there just wasn't enough set up that it would make sense. She's still extremely compelling, and a longer, more detailed story would have served her well.
Life byCommittee's titular group is more difficult to pin down. The subtle peer pressure they exert over their members is familiar, but there's a more insidious nature to it. I didn't enjoy seeing Tabitha lose herself to the group, even as one might argue that she needed to hit rock bottom before she could begin to climb back up again. The group promises to keep its members' secrets, but continues to drive them further into isolation instead of constructive growth. Many of the issues that Tabitha struggles with are ones that could at least be acknowledged by communication, and it would have been interesting to see her struggle with that without the extra influence of the group.
And in the end, was all of the emotional torment necessary? It's hard to say. Joe is not half as compelling as Tabitha, and I had a hard time believing that he was worth everything she went through. His motivations weren't justified, and by the end of the book, I wanted nothing more than to see him disappear from Tabitha's life.
The Final Say: Life by Committee is a polarizing novel, but one in which teens may find more to learn from than older readers.
Tell Me More: There's something to be said about a series that starts with its protagonist at her lowest point. Most dystopian novels beckon readers in with comfort and familiarity, but Shatter Me was different from the start. Juliette Ferrars is a heroine who is on her knees, broken and undone. Two books later, she becomes a force of nature in her own right, much like the young woman who first created her. Ignite Me is not only a satisfying ending to the trilogy, but a story that illustrates Tahereh Mafi's growth and undeniable talent on every page.
Going into Ignite Me, I was absolutely terrified that I would hate the book. Unlike other final books in dystopian trilogies, I didn't know what to expect out of this novel, and I couldn't decide if that lack of expectation was better or worse than my other experiences with books like Delirium and Divergent. Once I started reading, however, I forgot all of my anxiety and worries. The story is just as tightly woven as its predecessors, possibly more so now that Juliette understands what she is capable of, and the battle at the end is all but guaranteed. Her journey is clear: Shatter Me was Juliette learning about the extent of her powers, Unravel Me was the reveal of the choices she has to make knowing what she can do, and Ignite Me is where those choices are made, for better or for worse.
That kind of story requires a writer who knows her characters inside and out, and is willing to follow them through the hard choices. Tahereh Mafi's prose is raw and unflinching, and it captures the conflict that lies in Juliette's very being with authority. Juliette might be powerful beyond her own imagination, but she is also seventeen years old, and Mafi's writing style reflects Juliette's youth and determination. Even when she doubts herself, her thoughts are lined with steel, and I never once doubted that she is capable of paving her own path, even if no one is at her side.
But while Juliette is strong enough to stand on her own, it is comforting to see that she doesn't have to. Kenji and several other Omega Point residents return in Ignite Me and their presence brings a necessary lightness to the story's intensity. I loved that Kenji and Juliette's friendship grows stronger in this book, and that there is someone that isn't a potential love interest who makes the effort to understand her. I loved that Juliette learned to appreciate the support system that Omega Point created for people like her, and I loved that she valued them for who they were.
In my review of Unravel Me, I hypothesized that "Adam’s desire to keep [Juliette] safe blinds him to the fact that she still has agency." (view spoiler)[I wasn't pleased to find I was right about this halfway through the book, but I do think that it's that same point that shows that if Juliette should choose to be with anyone, it should be the man who sees her for who she is and accepts her. I don't think that Warner takes pleasure in the pain Juliette can cause, but he also won't pretend that it's not a fact of her life. He won't coddle her, and he'll help her in any way she asks him to, because he believes in and trusts her. Mutual respect is far more appealing than overprotectiveness, and I think Kenji makes that point far better than I ever could in a conversation with Juliette halfway through the novel. Warner and Juliette are both aware of what the other is capable of, and once they realize it, they make a conscious choice to use those abilities to help rather than harm. They are both capable of sacrificing parts of themselves, but neither will let the other do it. (hide spoiler)]
The best part is that Juliette knows all of this, and she comes to her own conclusions. Her sense of self-awareness has developed over the course of three books, and she is willing to face the battle ahead with open and clear eyes. She won't end up with someone because it's what is expected of her. She won't take action just because it's the right thing to do. Her every movement is done to set herself free so that she can make those choices on her own. And frankly, it would have made perfect sense to me if she hadn't ended up with anyone at all. (view spoiler)[I loved that her final battle was to save her best friend's life. (hide spoiler)] I loved that Mafi made her feelings and her choices matter.
Ignite Me does not end on an ambiguous note. Juliette, as she's done in the previous books, commits to a path and sees it through. There is devastation, but there is also hope. (view spoiler)[Warner tells her to "ignite," and she does light a flame that destroys the world they knew. But she also brings light and perspective, and their world is never going to be perfect, but it does become a world of potential. (hide spoiler)]
The Final Say: With its focus on Juliette's self-discovery and claim on her own freedom, IgniteMe is a satisfying and powerful ending to the Shatter Me trilogy.
Release Date: August 27, 2013 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) Age Group:...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: August 27, 2013 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 330 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC from publisher
Tell Me More: There are some books for which you know exactly what's going to happen, the secrets which will be revealed, the main overarching journey that the protagonist takes, and you love that book anyway. The Beginning of Everything was not that book. It dances on the edge of being something breathtaking without actually jumping off and losing its breath, and does so in favour of a rushed and unsatisfying ending.
Ezra is not a difficult character to decipher: he slides in perfectly with the typical hero of this subgenre, and you could recognize him in a heartbeat. He's used to life falling into place just so, without complications or complexities. The novel's first chapter hints at the supposed development of his personality with careful, poignant writing, and it was precisely those first few paragraphs that sold me on the book when the premise had not. That said, I didn't feel that his character development was explored as deeply as it could have been, and I didn't get the sense that he had truly matured. In fact, the experience was quite similar to how I'd felt at the end of (500) Days of Summer. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film, but Tom Hansen and Ezra share quite a few traits. They're not horrible people, but they are very self-centered in the most basic sense of the term. Unlike Tom, Ezra takes on more responsibility for his choices and his perspective of the world by the end of the novel. And that's great, but the development is crammed into the last 20 pages of the book, as though the reader is just expected to take his word for it without seeing proof.
Cassidy Thorpe, on the other hand--I was never quite sure what Schneider had intended for her character. We get a portrait of a girl painted in very broad strokes, with the occasional quirk to make her relatable to the reader. She enchants a cynical and tired Ezra almost effortlessly, though I enjoyed the banter between her and Toby more. But she's selfish, in a way that the titular Summer Finn never was (Tom Hansen's bitter viewpoint nonwithstanding). She was unsettling to me, because I could sense there was something off about her from the beginning. At first, my fear had been that she would turn out to be another manic pixie dream girl, but as the book went on, it became clear that she was faking that too. And again, that's fine and I applaud Schneider for steering away from that trope. But there is very little time to digest that revelation before the book has ended and the reader is faced with questions they didn't think (they had) to ask. The big plot twist was obvious from the start, and it didn't have the impact it probably should have had because there wasn't enough time spent on building it up/making the reader care about it in the first place. Instead, the reader is caught up in the relationship between Ezra and Cassidy, which only adds to the dissatisfaction when things don't exactly work out the way you think they will.
The plot is heavily centered around the mental and emotional journey that Ezra embarks on, so it isn't heavy on the worldbuilding. I highly enjoyed the scenes during the debate tournament because they felt the most real, even when Ezra didn't know what was going on. And oh, I could sing praises about Toby for nights on end--he practically leapt off the page, his energy and enthusiasm so palpable that they were almost contagious. But though parts of the novel were very well-drawn and substantiated, the fact remains that this is Ezra's story, and it never achieved the closure it should have.
The Final Say: Though the original title--Severed Heads, Broken Hearts--would have been an eye-catcher, I do think that the current title of this story fits it perfectly. The Beginning of Everything is full of false and fresh starts, but you may want to avoid it if you want a novel that pushes itself to the limit and past.