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American version of The Shattering   Australian version of The Shattering


Seventeen-year-old Keri likes to plan for every possibility. She knows what to do if you break an arm, or get caught in an earthquake or fire. But she wasn’t prepared for her brother’s suicide, and his death has left her shattered with grief. When her childhood friend Janna tells her it was murder, not suicide, Keri wants to believe her. After all, Janna’s brother died under similar circumstances years ago, and Janna insists a visiting tourist, Sione, who also lost a brother to apparent suicide that year, has helped her find some answers.

As the three dig deeper, disturbing facts begin to pile up: one boy killed every year; all older brothers; all had spent New Year’s Eve in the idyllic town of Summerton. But when their search for the serial killer takes an unexpected turn, suspicion is cast on those they trust the most.

As secrets shatter around them, can they save the next victim? Or will they become victims themselves? (source)


Spoilers.

Jodie: I remember you were a huge fan of Healey's first novel Guardian of the Dead. Do you want to start off by talking about how the experience of reading The Shattering compared to reading Guardian of the Dead? Did you enjoy it as much and if so, why? And what were your favourite elements of The Shattering?

Renay: I loved that novel! It's been some time since I read it, but I really loved the main character and the rich world building of that story. Coming away from The Shattering, though, I do think I prefer The Guardian of the Dead, although this book was fun, too. That's because this book was harder for me, because of the POV switches — first person to third — that I have a lot of trouble with while I'm reading. I get bumped out of the story, and it doesn't help I'm not wild about first person narration so the constant back and forth was really jarring. The Shattering suffered a little because of that, and it took me 70 or so pages to really get into it. Plus, I'm unsure about the pacing. But before we dig into all that, my favorite element was the renewal of friendship between Keri and Janna and watching Sione gain confidence in himself. The friendship elements here were really strong! Healey does great friendship. What about you?

Jodie: The POV switches and the pacing were probably my biggest peeves with The Shattering too. Otherwise, I had a pretty good time with this book.

Like you, I enjoyed seeing Keri and Janna rebuild their friendship. I love seeing how friends reconnect and I felt these two girls had such a genuine connection. That's partly why they slip back into being friends so easily, even though they're now completely different people from the when they were little girls. It's interesting that their new chance at friendship comes about as a consequence of their individual tragedies — they wouldn't have had a reason to get back together if their brothers hadn't died.

And I liked the friendship between Keri and Sione. Sione went from finding Keri difficult to handle — I think because he's worried she'll cut him apart with her quick mouth — to having the hots for her in that desperate 'anyone who shows me kindness is my new crush' way (been there), to being really solid friends with her. Their evolving friendship contrasted nicely with the easy way Janna and Keri fall back into each others company. I think it's clear that Healey has established the friendships well because when the spell hits and splits them all apart it matters to the plot and to the reader. The three are much more effective and resilient together, and that's why the coven decide to target them in that way. And the reader is hit by serious emotions as the three are forced to turn on each other. It was cool, if a bit heart wrenching, to see the book reinforce the importance of their friendships by focusing the plot on tearing those friendships apart.

The 'big ideas' of The Shattering appealed to me as well. In particular, I was drawn to fact that the whole book is built around examining how people react to grief. I could just imagine how helpful and enticing someone like Keri would find a concrete task, like solving a mystery, in the wake of a family member's sudden suicide. And I thought the book was good at laying out the idea that grief is different for everyone, especially when it shows Sione looking back on his relationship with his brother Matthew.

Finally, I was excited when it turned out that The Shattering was using the myth that crowning and killing a king each season ensures prosperity. It's not a story I'm that familiar with, but it's one that I find fascinating. Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince uses a similar idea as the basis for its plot, but in that book, as Ana from The Book Smugglers pointed out, the use of this myth reinforces stereotypical ideas about Brazilian culture. So, I was glad to see that myth reappear in what I assume is a less troubled setting. At least, I can't think of any weird connection between New Zealand history and human sacrifice, but then my knowledge of New Zealand history is minute.

Renay: I wonder how common this POV switching is in the wider publishing world. I don't often come across it, but when I do it's super weird. I know I can eventually get used to it if the book is long enough or part of a series where I spend time with the characters, but in shorter books it becomes a huge hurdle, and I know that impacted my connection with the characters. For me, this meant that while I really liked Keri's friendship with Janna, the wider trio's friendship didn't really ping me as much as it probably should have. It's sad, sure, to see them forced to hurt each other, but for me I always felt more connected to Keri and Janna's friendship, because I experienced the history of it through the immediacy of Keri's perspective. So because of that the connection between Sione and Janna extremely complicated but not lent the closeness of the relationship that Keri's first person perspective offered to her individual relationships with Janna and Sione.

I agree about them being stronger together, and the overall structure of the story leading them to struggle against the spell they're trapped under as the Final Boss Battle, it just didn't work as well for me due to the first person/third person split.

Jodie: I don't think it's that common. At least, this is the first time I've come across a switch from first person to third person narrative in a long time. It's more common to switch between multiple first person narratives, or to have a closely focused third person perspective that switches between what multiple characters are doing. I kind of wonder what effect the switch between first and third was supposed to achieve here — maybe it's designed to make the reader feel closest to Keri and absorb a huge emotional impact because she's the character who most recently lost her brother? Or maybe using the third person for Janna and Sione's sections is supposed to limit our perspective for some reason? Whatever the desired effect I'm not sure it paid out, at least not for me.

Renay: Your point about how Sione related to the girls around him, though, were really excellent touches. Although I didn't get the warm fuzzy of shared friendship as thoroughly as I could have, I did like that Sione initially defines his relationships with Keri and Janna in those ways. Not, specifically, because he's a teenager and that's what teenagers do, but more like it ties him back to his brother — it feels like adopted behavior, like what Matthew might do, rather than something Sione might do if he hadn't had that model of engagement presented to him as a way to engage with girls. The different ways Keri and Sione manage their grief are well-drawn; the one I had trouble with was Janna. She was harder to read for me, and I'm not really sure why. Obviously she cared for her brother, and is invested but it didn't quite come through for me?

And the sacrifice angle is excellent! The layers to what's happening are thick: a group is attempting to save the town, but in order to save it they remove any potential for additional growth, both for the town and the people in it, too. Not only are they killing boys, they're also stealing the future of people who might grow up and leave to do great things. I was amused to see the damsel in distress role being played by a boy, too, which is something that I am pretty sure features in Guardian of the Dead as well.

Jodie: I was really glad we got to see what happens to Summerton after the spell was lifted. Keri says that Summerton suffers 'normal misfortunes that hit isolated country towns all the time' and it's clear that this has real, sad consequences. However, tourists still come and people move into town. I found that whole passage a poignant stance against 'the ends justify the means' arguments. No one can predict the future and terrible things can be done in the name of survival. And Keri's simple words 'I don't think the town will die. I don't think it was ever going to.' moved me a lot. I suppose that's because I've seen the whole story unfold and know how much life the coven has wasted, but also because I know how afraid Keri was at the thought of being stuck in the small town unable to come out or hounded by intolerant people if she did tell them she was a lesbian.

Renay: Their fear drove them to do a terrible thing, to make a decision for an entire community as well as the people who visited it they had no right to make. The benefit of time and change is that we become better version of ourselves; we develop new ideas, we meet new people, we grow and enrich the world around us. The coven, by making the decision it does, robs Summerton of its ability to welcome new people, to change for better or worse. It's not really survival if that survival is being purchased with lives, it's only deferred suffering elsewhere. The whole idea of making the spell permanent is terrifying — no one, person or community, benefits from never having to face sad or unfortunate consequences. That's a disaster of a different sort altogether.

Jodie: Before we move on to pacing, plot and other things I want to ask if you had a favourite character? I found Keri easy to connect with, but then I'm a huge sucker for first person narratives (like huge — it makes me such an easy target for unreliable narrators). And I like Janna because she's both driven and flippantly fun. You?

Renay:I love Keri the best because we got more of her story, her struggle, and her pain when everything came to a head and the truth came out. We went on this journey with her from the beginning of the mystery to its heartbreaking conclusion. She was excellent in other ways, too. She's scared and angry and confused, but she's darkly funny and very, very clever. I especially liked the complicated relationship with her parents given their family situation, and how hard it was for her to be the one left behind.

Jodie: Yeah, Keri is the heart of The Shattering. I think Sione's description of her as 'all fast brain and sharp tongue' sums up part of why she's so fab. Even though he doesn't mean it as a compliment it crystalised a part of why I liked her so much.

Now for the bit of The Shattering we're both not so sure about — the pacing. Do you want to break down what didn't work for you and we'll see if we match?

Renay: I wish I were certain that the differences in the point of view of each section didn't have an impact on how I went through the book, because it felt so oddly uneven. First person reads "faster" to me than third person, so I'm wondering if my experience of the story and plot was influenced by that aspect of the book? I'd have to go back and reread to say for sure. But my main beef was that it took so long for the action to kick in, such as it was, and that because it did I didn't...worry as much? The tension just wasn't there for me like it could have been, and it took me way too many chapters to get hooked in to the story itself beyond the characters. I hesitate to say I was bored — that's not quite right — but I wasn't being tugged along to find out what happened next.

Jodie: I feel the same in a way. I don't need every book to contain the same kind of 'must keep reading until midnight' forward drive for me to stay interested, but I felt there was a detrimental lack of propulsion when I read The Shattering. In theory, it has this big stakes, explosive ending and an epic 'friends torn apart by evil' section, but I felt like I was thrown into those sections so suddenly that I felt off balance and hurried. While the whole book is the build up to the big plot dramas there's very little closer detail build up, or atmospheric build up, to generate tension. It's difficult to know how to feel when the big dramas go down. I know how I'm supposed to feel but the book doesn't take me to those feelings.

I actually wonder if I would have liked this book more if it'd been a realistic contemporary novel and it had turned out there were no murders. It's just the big plot pacing that didn't work for me and that stopped me from fully connecting with this book, and that would potentially be removed if you took out the magic plot. But then who knows — that imaginary book might still barrel into big events without enough build up for me.

Renay: It's definitely complicated. Perhaps lending to this was my trouble with the denouement in Keri's section, a rote summary of everything that happens "after" that wraps everything up in a bow after all the momentum through the resolution of the magic plot. I wish I were a better critical reader, but I tend to focus on what's happening when reading and drop my analytical mode completely and then have trouble looking back to assess any problems I might have in anything more the vague hand waves and guesses. The resolution to the book, though, was sad and bittersweet, but I did like that it ends on a hopeful note. My favorite part about Healey's writing is her ability to really dig in and create excellent characters who occupy a particular space, and that's present throughout the whole novel with Keri. Any criticism I have of the plot itself and my inability to engage with it is overshadowed by how much I really enjoyed Keri finding resolution. What did you think of the ending?

Jodie: I liked the style of the ending, which still surprises me. Usually, I'm not a fan of books which skip ahead in time and end by giving the reader a quick rundown on how everything played out. It reminds me of TV mystery shows that fade to black and then jump through time to have the characters sit around explaining what happened offscreen. While I can get along with that style in popcorn TV series I'm, just not keen on it when it comes to books. But the way Healey wrote the ending to The Shattering felt almost poetic to me and I left admiring her use of brevity and structure. Sometimes I'm surprised by how individual authors can change how I feel about a whole storytelling device.

The only bit I felt a little bit cheated by was the way Janna and Takeshi's relationship broke up. I think I get why the reader doesn't get direct access to their breakup — Healey would need quite a few chapters to do justice to that in detail — still I felt a little thrown out by that because The Shattering spends so much time convincing me to invest in their romance.

Renay: Yeah, that's a good way to look at it. I've been burned by this style of ending in fanfic too much, I suspect, so summary endings have to be really excellent. It might be my writing preferences, too. I sure do like ending stories on quiet, intimate, and drawn out scenes full of dialogue and emotion.

Overall, I enjoyed the book a lot, but I wanted it to be a little longer. :) I'm looking forward to checking out her science fiction next, When We Wake. Will you be diving into that series at all?

Jodie: I didn't realise it was going to be part of a series, but yes I've had When We Wake on my TBR since it was announced. It's got such a great hook, I find it hard to resist:

Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027—she's happiest when playing the guitar, she's falling in love for the first time, and she's joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.

But on what should have been the best day of Tegan's life, she dies—and wakes up a hundred years later, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.

The future isn't all she had hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better world?


I think our co-review of Rosemary and Rue and your dedication to Captain America fandom prove that we both have a thing about characters who get their lives stolen away.

Renay: This is true, and also hilarious considering the emotional pain we're putting ourselves through. Guess that means I'll see you again soon for the co-review of A Local Habitation! ;D

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers, Aja Romano, My friend Amy, yours?

Date: 2015-03-25 11:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I crazy love the summer king thing. I would read stories about summer kings forever. And I'm going to absolutely read this one. Y'all make it sound brilliant, and Jill from Rhapsody in Books has been raving about Karen Healey for a while now.

Date: 2015-03-25 11:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.pip.verisignlabs.com
That was me! Sorry! I forgot to make myself not-anonymous.

Date: 2015-03-28 09:20 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Yay, I hope you have time to write about it if you like it :)

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