February 24, 2014

A Study in Perception

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Release Date: February 4, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Teen
Pages: 416 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Series: Shatter Me #3
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she'll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew - about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam - was wrong.

In Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi created a captivating and original story that combined the best of dystopian and paranormal and was praised by Publishers Weekly as "a gripping read from an author who's not afraid to take risks." The sequel, Unravel Me, blew readers away with the heart-racing twists and turns, and New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia said it was "dangerous, sexy, romantic, and intense." Now this final book brings the series to a shocking and climactic end.

Thoughts on Ignite Me
I have a lot to say in this review, but I ask that you stick with me. In particular: if you loved the series but hated Ignite Me, I ask that you hear me out on a few things I've got to say. I want to have a discussion! Now, part of that discussion involves some spoilers, but I've clearly marked them if you haven't read this yet and are scared of that sort of thing. Let's proceed.

A Brief History of My Relationship With This Series

I picked up Shatter Me several times before I was able to get into it. I kept hearing everyone talk about it, but the strikethroughs and metaphors were just way too much for me at first! I decided to try again, sat down with the book, and ended up falling in love. At the end of my initial read of Shatter Me I was totally crazy about Adam, hated Warner, was intrigued by Kenji and just wanted Juliette to find her own inner strength.

Next, I read Destroy Me and Unravel Me. How did I feel at the end? I still wanted nothing to do with Warner, but I did develop a crush on Kenji. Adam and Juliette? Both were annoying me, but I read the two books and the e-novella so closely together that my heart was still firmly attached to their relationship. I wanted them to get past their problems and get back to what made them so exciting. I actually wrote letters to the characters in my Unravel Me review because I felt so emotionally attached to them all. 

Almost a year passed, and then I read Fracture Me. I didn't hate it, even though I loved Adam. Why does that need to be said? Because you see a new side to Adam, and it's a little disconcerting for anyone that was holding out for this hero in the final book.

So, I decided a complete series re-read was in order before I dove into Ignite Me. I went back to the first book and started everything over again. I tried to approach the series from a new mindset - reminding myself to look for clues and signs that might help me see the series as a whole instead of boiling it down to just the love triangle. Suddenly, I felt like I was noticing new things. It helped that I started Ignite Me from that place, which is what I want to share today. I finished the re-read with four small realizations and one rather huge one, which is absolutely critical to the way I ultimately felt about this series.

My Four Small Series Realizations After Re-Reading

1. It was never about the world.
One thing I realized as I re-read the books is that the world is very vague in this series. The books are marketed as dystopian and/or science fiction, but I'm not sure it really should be categorized that way. If you're looking for answers about how the new government was formed or why certain people have special powers, you're not going to get it. Because it's ultimately not really the point of the story Mafi has chosen to tell.

My re-read of the first books reminded me that the world was never that developed. So, I didn't go into the third book expecting more there. This is important because the last book won't give you much more information, which could be disappointing if that's your expectation. I can understand being frustrated with the final book if you think everything about the world will finally make sense. I've gone into a book before expecting one thing and not having it deliver. It definitely doesn't make for a great reading experience. So, remind yourself before Ignite Me that it was never about the world.

2. The plot was never that complicated either.
Just like the world building aspect, the plot for each book has always been a little loose. Ultimately, this series has always been about the writing, the emotion and the characters. There hasn't been a lot happening in any of the books. In each one, there was a huge focus on emotions, conversations and relationships. It is, at the end of the day, a story about Juliette's growth as a character. While it was somewhat noticeable in Shatter Me, it really struck me in Unravel Me. There isn't a whole lot happening action-wise in that book, and yet there is a ton going on in with the characters internally.

So, I didn't go into Ignite Me suddenly expecting there to be a complicated or incredibly developed plot. What you'll find in the last book plot-wise is exactly what existed in the previous books: a plot that exists to highlight the characters, primarily Juliette, and their emotional response and connection to the world and people around them. If you loved that aspect of the first two books, you'll probably still enjoy everything that takes place in this one.

3. The writing is something to be savored.
It took some getting used to, but I am addicted to Mafi's writing now. I'll be curious to see how it changes in her future books since I assume part of this style is specific to Juliette and her mental state. There have always been so many quotable moments in this series, and that was true for me in the third book, too.

Re-reading these books was such a wonderful experience because I found new lines, phrases and moments that caught my attention. The focus of my review (in point #5) is something that I noticed only upon re-reading and as I had time to really digest these books. I love books that seem new and fresh every time I read them while still feeling comforting and familiar. It's the best combination!

4. Prepare for the emotions.
Oh, the emotions. I could say a million things here, but I think they've probably been said by everyone else. Whether you love it or hate it, these books absolutely deliver on the emotional front. There's pain, passion, heartache, fear, anger, joy... I could go on. Mafi is at her very best when she's communicating feelings!

I am choosing not to write much else here because I feel like a lot has already been said about this, and I have WAY more to say about the next point because it's something I don't feel like has been talked about yet:

My One Huge Series Realization After Re-Reading

5. All you know is what Juliette tells you. 
This was a really critical thing for me to realize as I read. All you know about the world and the other characters is what Juliette thinks about them. And, I hate to say it, but she's an unreliable narrator. It's pretty clear from the beginning that Juliette is a little unstable. She has lived in a world without any real human connection, so she's not exactly an expert in relationships or communication. Right or wrong, it's something to keep in mind.

While re-reading, I realized: I loved Adam because of what Juliette saw and told me about him, and I hated Warner for the exact same reasons. The second book feels so confusing because you suddenly start seeing people in a new light. I resisted it and ranted about it at the time, but I now think it's meant to leave you feeling a bit flustered. That's how Juliette feels, too! You see new sides to BOTH boys in Unravel Me, and in the e-novellas (note: the first time you hear from them yourself instead of about them from Juliette), which I feel is important to mention because of what I've seen said about this book.

Before I proceed, I want to have a little disclaimer and side note:
No one reads the same way, and no reader will get exactly the same thing from a book. You bring your own background, reading preferences, history, etc. to every book you read. That's why reading is so personal and inspires such passionate discussions. I'm about to offer my opinion on a huge part of the final book (spoilers will be noted), and I'm not implying anyone read the final book wrong if they feel the way I describe below or disagree with what I have to say about it.
However, I do want to respond to something I've seen in a number of reviews. I'm going to pretend we're all in book club together where I would freely share this opinion and would expect to have a discussion about it. A huge, defining characteristic of good bookish conversations is the back-and-forth. It requires being able to offer an opinion, hear a response, and then continue to talk about it. I don't want everyone to agree with me about a book, and I never think that someone should or will feel the same way I do.
I don't want to just talk to myself or to people who share the same opinions as me. That doesn't bring anything fresh to the conversation! One way I see new things in a book is by talking to people who felt differently about it than I did. So, if you hated Ignite Me for the reason I'm about to discuss, I ask that you hear me out:
There has been a lot of discussion about the feeling that Adam and Warner, in many ways, completely change in the third book. After re-reading the rest of the series before this one, I don't really feel that way. Again, that's not to say I'm right and everyone else is wrong - it's just what stood out to me as I read. But I think you begin to see another side to both boys in the second book - as Juliette starts to interact more with the world around her. The more she's around other people and forced to find her own way in the world, the more you see nuances in the portrayal of the other characters.

This series is about Juliette's growth as a character, and one of the biggest ways you see it is in how she expresses herself in each of the books. For example, there is a decreased use of strikethroughs in Unravel Me, and they are almost completely absent in Ignite Me. But the other place you see it (aside from just in the writing) is that you no longer take characters at face value. Someone isn't wonderful or evil just because Juliette believes or says they are OR because she is told they are. She has to learn to see for herself instead of relying on everyone else in her life to tell her how she ought to feel, who she ought to trust, etc. And you, as the reader, learn those things right alongside her. Is it painful? HELL YES. But I think it's meant to be that way. Isn't it painful in real life when you see a new, unpleasant side to a friend or romantic interest?

For example, Adam is a complete pain at times during Unravel Me. I loved Adam when I wrote my review a year ago, but even I said to him: "I swooned and sighed when you charmed crazy Juliette in Shatter Me... So what happened? I needed you to be in control. Instead, you were just as much of a pill as Juliette." Adam has always been a flawed character - as are Juliette and Warner are, too. All three characters reveal and learn new things about themselves as the series progresses.

Juliette doesn't know who she is, so how she is supposed to know who other people are? And remember, you only know as much or as little as she does. I think this series in one huge, interesting study in perception. How do you perceive yourself? How do you perceive others? And how do others perceive you?

Applying this, in a simplistic form, to Juliette:
  • Juliette sees herself as a murderer.
  • Juliette see others as untrustworthy. 
  • People see Juliette as dangerous.
But is any of that true?

You can have this conversation about all of the main characters in these book, and I actually think it's one of the overarching themes of the series: How are your actions and/or emotions influenced by 1) how you see yourself, 2) how you believe others see you, 3) how you want others to see you or 4) how you see others/the world around you?

Since this conversation involves the boys, I will focus for a second on the part about how you perceive others. There is a huge difference between who you imagine/believe someone to be and who they actually are. It's something that characters find out - in frustrating and painful ways - in this series. Sometimes you think someone is something they've either a) never been or b) aren't anymore. You aren't a bad person when that happens! Do you know how easy it is to make a snap judgment (positive or negative) about another person? Everyone has expectations for other people, whether you realize them or not, and sometimes your first impression isn't correct. Sorry, y'all, but Pride and Prejudice taught me that lesson.

So, I repeat: you only know what Juliette does at each stage of this series, and she isn't really to be trusted. I don't think the characters completely change - I think Juliette's perception and understanding of them does.

*Spoiler-y Thoughts Below, So Proceed With Caution*

As someone who loved Adam originally, I don't feel like he was completely vilified in Ignite Me. Do I think we saw an unflattering, frustrating side to him? Yes. And I get that it hurts, especially if you really love him. You want him to be the version of himself that wooed you (and Juliette) in the first book! But I noticed in re-reading: he's just as lonely, lost and scared as Juliette in the beginning. He struggles with the powerful, confident Juliette - not because he's evil or the bad guy - but because it's not how he imagined his life with her. He spent so long wanting to find that sweet, kind little girl he knew as a boy and didn't know what to do when that wasn't who she wanted to be anymore. But he was reacting poorly to tension with her in every book, not just in Ignite Me.

The only love triangles I truly hate are the ones where the girl is completely wishy-washy. After re-reading, I never felt that Juliette screwed him over. You can tell she is torn between them, and I think it's out of loyalty to the fact that Adam saved her in so many ways. She wasn't completely up front with him in Unravel Me (that annoyed me!), but she never lies or leads him on in Ignite Me. So, I can't really complain on that aspect of the relationship. She owed him honesty, which I felt she gave him. His reaction to it isn't her responsibility.

I've got one more thought that will probably sound shocking. Aside from the far-fetched setting and higher-than-normal stakes, I felt that the romance's resolution and dissolution was believable. I'm not saying the actual triangle was completely realistic in the modern world, but stick with me for one last second.

Think about real-life dating relationships. My friends and I used to joke that the first year of dating someone is the honeymoon period, and you start to really see their true colors after that period of time has passed. Not that people alter drastically after the first year of dating, but things do change a bit as you grow more comfortable and relaxed in your relationship. It's when cracks often start to show, and it can be a time where you re-evaluate whether someone is right for you. You may not be as quick to forgive or overlook their flaws.

I felt like that's something this book portrayed. Adam didn't become evil... but it did become clear that Adam wasn't the right guy for her. The relationship fell apart because they weren't the people the other one needed. And it can be painful when a relationship ends for that reason. It doesn't invalidate your initial feelings for the other person (or theirs for you) or mean that the relationship wasn't worthwhile. It just means it didn't last, and I think that's pretty realistic. It's not often that you end up with the first person you love. And relationships have to end for a reason, right? I think a common one is because either your or the other person changed.

*Spoiler-y Thoughts End Here*

Why did I write all that in response to some of the main complaints I've seen to Ignite Me? Is it because I think I'm so right and clearly have more insight into this book or series? Ha! Not a chance. I just noticed things as I re-read the books/novellas that affected how I ultimately felt about the series as a whole - things that felt were worth sharing, particularly as someone who really loved Adam and hated Warner at first.

There's been one statement in some of the negative reviews of this book that has made me sad: the implication that this series is either no longer worth reading or not worth continuing. I'm not saying it's not a valid feeling - I've definitely hated series finales before. So, why does it bother me that people have said it about this series in particular? I think it's because hype, anticipation and expectations played a lot into the disappointment I've seen expressed. And almost all of those things depend on each individual reader. I don't expect the same things someone else does. And I may not hear the same hype or anticipate the same ending as someone else. It all goes back to what I said in my side note - everyone reads and reacts differently.

If you hate Shatter Me, you'll probably hate the whole series. Nothing wrong with stopping after book one. But if you enjoyed or loved Shatter Me and Unravel Me, I think you should find out for yourself how you feel about the ending. I binge read the series from beginning to end in just a few days, and I felt that the final book fit right in with how the series started.

The series is consistent overall: world-building and plot take second stage to characters, writing and emotion. To be completely honest, there isn't a huge change or shift in the final book when it comes to those aspects of the books. Ignite Me picks up right where Unravel Me (or Fracture Me) leaves off and ends in a way that remains true to the story Mafi started telling in the first place. It might not be the story everyone wanted, but I think it's a story worth reading and a discussion worth having.

Perception is a huge deal in this series. Do the characters change or is it your perception of them that does? Either way, it happens with flesh and blood people, too. It's one reason relationships are so complicated! Most people aren't completely evil or completely perfect… That's a huge reason I care so much about character development in every book that I read. In real life, you're constantly navigating and re-evaluating people as you get to know them better.

People aren't just static or predictable. You can be brave enough to defend someone against bullies and yet scared of mice. You can be kind enough to give up your seat for someone else and yet still scream when a car cuts you off in traffic. People are walking contradictions, which is why I absolutely love this series. The characters aren't one dimensional! The way Mafi portrayed the people in this book worked for me, and I don't think you have to adore one boy and hate the other to enjoy Ignite Me. But I did have to be able to step back, look at the story that was being told, and let go of my own expectations for the series.

I don't think I've ever had so much to say about a book, and I have worked on this post for hours. I absolutely adored this series, and it will be an all-time favorite for me. There's nothing wrong if it's not a favorite for someone else! I've been disappointed in a series ending before when others loved it, but I still liked talking about the ending. In some cases, I was able to see a side to the story that I hadn't noticed before. It didn't necessarily change my overall feelings, but it did give me additional perspective. I think that's what I wanted to do here. Have a conversation, a bookish discussion, about a series ending that has been somewhat divisive. So, let's talk.

So Quotable
One character said this but it's pretty true for them all: "And if you insist on continuing to make assumptions about my character, I'll advise you only this: assume you will always be wrong."

13 comments:

  1. This series is one of my favorites to reread. I read re-read every pre-existing book every time a new one came out (with the exception of Fracture Me, since it was so close to Ignite Me), and I had SO MANY realizations every single time I reread them. I feel like the most important one was exactly what you said:

    5. All you know is what Juliette tells you.

    And everything you said in that little section is spot-on. You're seeing the world through Juliette's eyes. She doesn't know everything; in fact, she doesn't really know much. She has a lot of emotions and things to deal with, and the characters who surround her do too. I feel like you have to realize that to fully love this series. Because only then does the approach - light on plot/world details but heavy on the characters - truly make sense. And since, for me, when reading any book, the plot is generally way secondary to the characters? This approach works for me big time. Of course, it helps that I am head over heels for Mafi's writing style. But anyway.

    I LOVE THIS REVIEW. I love that you couldn't shut up about it. I recorded a 30 minute vlog in response to Ignite Me with my whole series thoughts, similar to this, but I did not ever wind up being nearly as concise or detailed about it. Well done! I really enjoyed reading this. :)

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  2. I glanced briefly over this and will come back to reread it a little later. I will say that I LOVED this series as a story arc and it is the series that I have re-read more than any others (not necessarily because it is my favorite series, but because it is beautifully written and it sounds beautiful on audiobook). I think that TMafi is masterful - this is MY opinion - in the way that she made me rethink myself on way more than one occasion and I absolutely loved that about her. I loved her responses in Jamie's (Perpetual Page-Turner) interview about how people judge, and I felt like that stepped on my toes a little bit because OH MY GOODNESS THAT WAS ME. All of that being said, the experience of reading Ignite Me was tarnished. I was so excited to read it and I made absolutely positive NOT to read a single teaser or early chapter or even early review. I went into it completely open to Adam OR Warner because by that point, I had read and listened so many times that I had created my own perfect scenario for the way the book ended and it didn't really have anything to do with the romance, believe it or not. But the negativity on release day was so hard to get around and I am really great at getting around these things. Even though I avoided the hype, I could not get around the negativity with people being so upset about a book of fictional characters. SO...I read the book on the day AFTER release. Then I secretly re-read the book immediately after finishing it the first time. In doing so, I feel like I was able to see if the way I felt was REALLY how I felt without being affected by what I was hearing and seeing out there so much. And I ended up feeling MORE of how I felt. I haven't yet written on this book because everyone else has but I plan to soon. I can't wait to share my thoughts. But ultimately, I was determined not to let negativity sway me and even though I still see it on twitter this is only the second review that I have *glanced* at. I'm just so very shocked at how a young adult book has so many people up in arms. I think that for me, the fact that it was always more about TMafi and her gorgeous writing than anything else is why I feel so in love with the entire series: the happy parts, the sad parts, the 'what-in-the-world' parts and every thing in between.

    I could talk about this for probably an hour, but I'll stop now.

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  3. All of this is so exactly what I was thinking. It is hard for people to remember that first person narratives are almost always biased and rarely completely reliable (I said this same thing about Hunger Games, re: Katniss). You only see one version of the story. Destroy Me, in my opinion, is the perfect proof that Mafi doesn't intend for Juliette to be a reliable narrator and while we're at it, Warner isn't either. I love how you summed up this series with one word: perception. I think that this could have been Mafi's thesis throughout the series and if so, she did it brilliantly. Those who want to take the books at face value are missing so much more. Thanks for the intuitive assessment. I think it's dead on.

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  4. I loved this review so much because you're just spot-on about everything.I want to write a long response but I feel like you've said everything that needs to be said! So basically the whole point of this comment is to say I agree completely haha.

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  5. It's like you read my mind! LOVE THIS.

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  6. No words. You've said them all...perfectly. That is all. :)

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  7. This review/discussion is AMAZING. Seriously, you were able to articulate exactly what I think about this series overall and the love triangle. The progression and growth of the characters felt consistent to me too and like you, I was all about Adam at first. But I never thought about it from the angle you pointed out -- Juliette being an untrustworthy character or how her perception was all we had to rely on. It makes absolute sense though!

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  8. This is perfection! Seriously. So well thought out and you've managed to articulate things that were just floating around my brain in incomplete sentences and thoughts. I want to give you all the awards for this review/discussion! It's the best. Seriously. I want to go through this line by line but I won't BUUUUUT I so wish we could sit down together in person and chat about this!!

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  9. I haven't read this series, but what an amazing review, Hannah! I love what you say about perception and how that influences the characters and us as readers. :) Really interesting discussion.

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  10. Okay- coming back. again. I'm finishing my own review and I thought I'd add a reflection here that I didn't explain in my own post. (SPOILERISH THOUGHTS AHEAD) I think that a lot of people fell in love with the prose and broken parts of Juliette in Shatter Me. They saw something in her brokenness that probably spoke to something within themselves. Hey, we're all broken somewhere right? So when she changed, grew strong, and came into her own they were still relating to the hurting Juliette who wrote in her journal...the one Adam fell for. So those who didn't want to let go of that Juliette, much like Adam, didn't like that she grew away from the way she wrote and the way she clung and needed him in Shatter Me. So when she saw that Warner really was attempting to bring her into her own ability and she fell for someone who gave her understanding of her own power and control, they may not have been ready to move on, yk? It was hard too since the very nature of Juliette's discovery of who Warner truly was had to come as abruptly to the reader as it did to Juliette. It was jarring to some and I think it is bold of Mafi to not leave that many clues to his "goodness" until Juliette starts to look for them. Readers are just as much part of the story in some ways because they bring their own pasts into the reading. Many don't like feeling "tricked" or doing a 180 on characters as they have invested emotionally and want the pay off. This just wasn't that kind of series...and I appreciated that because even though it was hard/heartbreaking, it was done well. (in my opinion)

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  11. I haven't read IGNITE ME just yet, but I intended all along to do the same thing you did, which is read the series from start to finish. I like to do that whenever I can because it always enhances the reading experience for me! But seriously, reading your thoughts on IGNITE ME and the Shatter Me series overall is very refreshing. Your points are very different from what I've seen floating around the blogging community, and I LOVE IT. It really makes me think about this series, and it might slightly change how I go into this series binge and IGNITE ME. Beautifully done, Hannah!

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  12. i loooove what you say about juliette being an unreliable narrator! i've never really thought about it but it is SO SO TRUE. tbh would have been v impressed if this turned out to be all in juliette's head.

    particularly loved this paragraph:
    You can have this conversation about all of the main characters in these book, and I actually think it's one of the overarching themes of the series: How are your actions and/or emotions influenced by 1) how you see yourself, 2) how you believe others see you, 3) how you want others to see you or 4) how you see others/the world around you?

    YOU ARE SO SMART, HANNAH! this series definitely fails on the world building/dystopia/etc. part but is aces about characters, even if i found some of it kind of forced. i still really enjoyed the series a lot though and love tahereh mafi. i would definitely check out her work after this series. agreed about adam. tbh i was always like WHAT...THEY WERE ONLY IN THIRD GRADE AND BARELY (IF THEY EVEN DID) INTERACTED so i'm glad mafi addressed that. they really were holding onto ideals of each other.

    like jamie said, i so wish i could discuss with you in person!

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  13. Great review, and like others have said, spot on. I'm so glad that you mentioned that Mafi isn't writing about the world, and because of this perhaps it isn't a dystopia.
    Eventhough I reread the entire series before reading Ignite Me, I resisted the change in Juliette's voice at first. I just wasn't used to Juliette being so strong. It didn't help that I had just come from reading Adam's thoughts, which really jarred me. (You're right in that he isn't meant to be hated. They just grow apart, and he is alone and struggling with who Juliette has become.) After I finished reading Ignite Me, I reread it again and it was much better even the second time through, understanding how Juliette had changed. I loved the progression of Warner especially. I don't think I ever hated him; I was always leery and confused about him. I didn't expect everything that Mafi brings out in him though. It was amazing. And I love the development of Juliette's friendship with Kenji.
    One thing I thought was especially refreshing about the Shatter Me series was the balance between Warner and Juliette. It was awesome to see this couple that encouraged each other to be the best version of themselves without wanting to change the other person into something the other was not.
    When I recommend Shatter Me to my friends, I always encourage them to get through at least Destroy Me (but preferably Unravel Me) before writing the series off. I hated the first book. For me, it took all the way through Unravel Me before I fell in love. And when I fell, I fell hard. This is one series I have to make myself not constantly reread.

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