Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior. – Goodreads description
My first impression of this book was that I really didn’t like how it was written. I got SO ANNOYED with the epic crossing out of things. It’s okay once or twice. Cute, even. But nearly every page there were crossed out bits, usually crossed out repetitive bits, and all it did was distract me from the story.
Same with the disjointed, nearly stream of consciousness style and the repetition. I ended up just skimming entire pages and sections because it was that or stop reading. Here’s an example of just how repetitive it got:
On page 9: “There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a-”
On page 11: “There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird. It will be-“
Page 28: “Maybe a bird will fly today. […] the bird will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly.”
There were also weird word choices and descriptions that I didn’t care for:
On page 22: “My lungs are skewered and strung together and I’ve just decided not to move for an eternity when he speaks.”
On page 23: “I close my eyes until I’ve sewn them shut.”
On page 24: “Butterflies catch fire in my stomach. An inexplicable humiliation is searing my flesh.”
On page 32: “I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favourite lipstick all smeared into the earth. So much everything and all the things dead.”
And then there are just passages that make no sense to me at all. And often do the annoying repeating thing and the annoying crossy-outy thing:
Page 62: “From outside it looks like a bland building, inconspicuous in every way but its size, gray steel slabs comprising 4 flat walls, windows cracked and slammed into the 15 stories [which should be storeys, btw]. It’s bleak and bears no marking, no insignia, no proof of its true identity. […] His eyes are tight, his forehead pinched, his lip
his lips his lips are 2 pieces of frustration forged together. I step backward and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us.”
Page 66: “Adam gentles me onto the soft mattress and takes a small step backwards.”
This one probably annoyed me the most. He gentles you? He gentles you? Oh, come on. Just use normal people words for god’s sake.
I get what she was trying to do with her writing style – I don’t think it was an accident, nor do I think it’s just how she writes. When we meet Juliette, she has been alone in solitary confinement for nearly a year. She hasn’t talked. She hasn’t touched anyone. She has had nothing to occupy her mind. Sure, that’ll drive a girl a little loopy. So I get that the writing style is meant to convey how mixed up Juliette’s head feels, and that she’s basically insane.
But that didn’t make it any less annoying to read, particularly when there are so many elements I didn’t like all mixed together – and when it went on for so much of the book. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever the repeating thing started, and skimming any of the weird passages that felt like they belonged more in a book of modern poetry than a YA novel.
By the time I was a quarter of the way through the book the writing was irritating me so much that it completely distracted me. I started off writing down passages (like those above) that particularly made me stabby, but by about page 50 I was spending more time writing than reading so I gave up. Honestly, I felt like I was reading a first, heavily marked up draft. The scratched out words on every goddamn page didn’t help either – it felt like suggested edits (ones that should have been heeded) had been ignored.
Now here’s where I’ve gotten all that out of my system and admit that more than likely this was at least partly a personal preference thing. It wasn’t entirely badly written, I just took a very strong dislike to the style (in case you couldn’t tell). That happens from time to time. So if reading the passages above you’re thinking, “What’s this girl on about? I think it’s cool.” Then you will probably love this book, and by all means, don’t let my irritation put you off.
These issues did get better as the story progresses, too. The crossing out became less frequent, as did the repetition. The action ramped up, and the plot moved at a faster place leaving less time for flowery, overly creative prose. By about two thirds of the way through the book, I was starting to enjoy myself and had nearly forgiven the earlier irritation (nearly). So even if you do agree with me when you start the book, you should probably stick with it, because it does get better.
The story itself hooked me. I’m not gonna lie, the last third of the book I was on the edge of my seat. Once the story took precedence over the prose, it took off. I also liked how Juliette’s powers developed and that they discover things towards the end of the book that I never would have suspected early on. And while the relationship between Juliette and Adam is a bit overly intense and melodramatic, I was okay with it, and I was rooting for them.
One of the biggest things I was into, though, was that while Juliette starts off seeming very fragile and breakable, by the end of the book she’s pretty much a total badass. And not just because of her powers – girl’s got guts. And I’m a fan of that. I will forgive a lot for a strong female lead.
I expected to hate this book when I started it. I was prepared to give up halfway through. So I have to give props to Mafi for recovering from a really, really rocky start. Not only did I end up liking the story (if not the style), but I do need to know what happens next. So I will be continuing with this story, and I’m hesitantly looking forward to it. I’m hoping that as she develops the plot, she’ll also develop as a writer. I’m not sure if this was her first book (I know she’s a young author) or just the first of a new series, but either way I feel like some of the stuff that irked me might have been down to inexperience and lack of confidence. I hope that the stylistic evolution this book went through is a precursor of better things to come.
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Published By: Harper
Released: November 15, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia, Action/Adventure
Rating: First half of the book 1/10, by the end of the book 6/10
//<![CDATA[ var sc_project=10144299; var sc_invisible=1; var sc_security="82f610c9"; var scJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://secure." : "http://www."); document.write("”); //]]>