Monday, August 29, 2011

The Shattering by Karen Healey

Keri’s beloved older brother Jake has just committed suicide. Jake had always seemed like a happy young man, and the suicide is both unexpected and traumatizing for Keri and her family. Because of Jake’s suicide, Keri reconnects with her old friend Janna, whose brother had also committed suicide some years ago.

Only Janna doesn’t believe the deaths were suicides. She introduces Keri to her friend Sione, whose brother had also committed suicide recently. Janna and Sione have been researching the suicides that occurred in their New Zealand town of Summerton, and they determined that there was one suicide per year, always around the same time. They are also curious about the fact that Summerton is always prosperous, always sunny at the turn of the year, and no one ever really seems to leave. The two girls and the boy investigate the suicides and it slowly becomes apparent – to Janna at least – that magic is at work. Keri and Sione are less sure, but all three follow the clues to determine what is really going on. Danger, heartache, and a little bit of romance ensue.

One element I really enjoyed about The Shattering was the diversity in the cast. Both Keri and Sione are at least part Maori. With Sione, who looks lily white but has a Maori name, this tends to be a problem. With Keri, it’s not as much of an issue. I like that Healey handled it this way. She is able to simultaneously show that non-white characters in teen fiction can be in a story that is not mainly about their race, as well as show the reality that race does matter.

The Shattering is told from Keri, Janna, and Sione’s perspectives in alternating chapters, although only Keri’s is first-person. While this may seem like an odd choice, it works. Keri is clearly the protagonist and we identify and sympathize with her the most, but Janna and Sione are also well-drawn, fully-fleshed characters with believable flaws that don’t prevent them from being likable. It can be difficult to portray three grief-stricken teenagers in such a way that they all clearly have their own voice, but Healey pulls it off admirably.

I normally avoid mysteries that have a magic or supernatural flavor. Since I like to try to puzzle out the solution myself as I read, I need to know that the laws of physics will be followed: the culprit isn’t invisible, doesn’t have superpowers, and can’t stop time. If magic is on the table, then it’s almost impossible to know the rules and therefore impossible to deduce the answer. Really, it could be anything.

Usually, that’s no fun. Not so with The Shattering. Healey is honest with her use of magic and doesn't spring magical elements on the reader as a cheat or deus ex machina. She presents the reader with a set of rules, albeit not the rules we usually find in the real world, and she does it believably by showing how the main characters eventually transition from being deniers to believers. That way, when the characters (in particular Keri) buy into it, the reader does too.

The end of The Shattering is what lifted this book from a four star to a five star for me. Obviously I can’t say much about it, but even after the main thrust of the book has been resolved, Healey has more to say about life and love and death and grief. It’s moving, and despite the fantasy elements of the novel, it’s also true.

Review copy received from the publisher. The Shattering hits shelves September 5.

2 comments:

  1. SO many books go the other way, for me…they’re 5 stars until the end and then drop to 4 due to a lackluster or downright botched ending. Glad this one turned the positive way.

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  2. YAY! I have this one and knowing it's a 5 star read makes it all the more appealing.

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