let's get the seven lines. (bookshop) wrote,
let's get the seven lines.

Review: Karen Healey's The Shattering -- Grand Guignol goes to the Beach.

Title: The Shattering
Author: Karen Healey ([personal profile] karenhealey)
Genre: Young Adult Horror, Young Adult Fantasy, Young Adult
How I got it: folks, I popped my NetGalley cherry for this book. The moment I heard it was available I went running. I regret nothing, etc etc.
Where to buy it: The publish date in the US is 9/5/11, but you can order it from from your local independent bookstore or the book depository!

Disclaimer: I got to meet Karen Healey last year and was even fortunate enough to be on a panel with her and [personal profile] jlh at Infinitus. I already thought she was awesome beyond words before I met her, so I am pretty much a lifelong fan of her and her writing. I will try to be objective in this review, but no promises. Really you could just stop reading this right now, because all you need to know is: if the author is Karen Healey, BUY THE BOOK.

In a nutshell: You're about to find out why it never rains in Summerton.

Straight from the book jacket: 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?


Do the characters make you want to rip your own face off? No, no, not ever, not once. There's nothing better than sitting down with a book that you know is going to give you fully realized, three-dimensional characters, a diverse cast, and complex dynamics.

Okay, I actually have to put the rest of this review below the cut because it's long eta: and, i have been informed, super-spoilery!!! be warned!. But there are many pictures of West Coast New Zealand below to entice you!

Towards the end of The Shattering, the three main characters have the falling-out to end all falling-outs and then have to decide whether pursuing their goal--catching the serial killer--is still worth it when they all hate each other.

Also towards the end of The Shattering, a villain stops, in the middle of said serial killing, to remind another character that under no circumstances will she tolerate sexism.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto-lings. Cardboard characters are things you'll never find in KH's writing. This is not your cut-and-paste YA, and this is not Peter Jackson's New Zealand.

The Shattering is a tremendously diverse book that lives within the various cultural clashes that inhabit this part of the Pacific. Within our cast of main characters alone we have Keri, who's part Māori, Janna and Aroha who are both Pākehā (white), Sione, who's Samoan, and Takeshi, who's Japanese. There's often an unspoken tension that's only partly connected to the rash of murders, as cultures and individuals clash repeatedly in this book. They also work together, and just as in Guardian of the Dead, it's wonderful to watch KH's commitment to progressive representation of characters come alive against the stunning backdrop of New Zealand's West Coast.

And these characters are great. One of my favorite examples is when Janna snaps at a boy who's being a sexist pig, "Girls aren't here to make your dick happy!" A few seconds later, after Janna's just had to make a major decision, the same boy reaches out to her in clear concern and worry. I love that Karen Healey's characters can be sexist douchebags, but are also allowed to be caring and real.

(New Zealand, South Island, Catlins, Purakanui Falls)

Does the plot make sense? Yep, completely. This is very much a retelling of the Wicker Man fable--even the name of the town is a throwback to Summerisle--so there aren't a lot of surprises to anyone familiar with the main storyline. In keeping with the Wicker Man theme, there's plenty of sexuality, mysterious death, witchcraft, and unreal beauty all around. There are, however, plenty of surprises in the details. Pay attention to the little things, because there are lots of plot threads, and just as in her first book, KH unravels them with relish. If you love The Wicker Man (or even Hot Fuzz) as much as I do, then you'll love this storyline--and to anyone who isn't familiar with the story, it's a thrilling one from start to finish.

I was expecting more setup, but it was all plot from page one--obviously this means it didn't lag, but the plot was well underway before I felt settled into the world and comfortable with the characters. I thought at first that maybe this was a pacing issue, but now that I'm finished I think it was done deliberately, because being unsettled from the start was actually the point.

And if you're unsettled from the first time you read about Sione and his bus of tourists bursting into tears the moment they get their first look at the town, then you're on the right track.

(In my head this is what Sione saw when he topped the hill.)

(Lake Te Anau, West Coast NZ)

Is the prose abysmal? Okay, this is where I confess that Guardian of the Dead was my favorite book of 2010. I love that book so much. I loved it so much that my review of it was a giant bingo card, because there was just too much awesomeness to talk about at once.

I hope I've already given you an idea of what makes KH such a fabulous writer--strong characters, diversity, carefully crafted plots--but one thing I haven't talked about before is what a fantastic writing style she has. It's succint, it's realistic, it's gripping, it's pleasant without a lot of adornment. Like this moment from Chapter Two, which is long, but which I'm going to quote in entirety because it's a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes KH such a great writer:

Sione reached for his laptop, but Janna put her hand over his, and he froze, trying not to move into her touch.

"Drinks, then talk, then dinner," she decreed, and while Keri's eyebrows rose, she seemed okay with letting Janna call the waitress back.

"So how do you two know each other?" she asked when the drinks arrived.

Sione felt the flush start under his collarbone. "Uh, well," he began. "We met at the gelato place last year--"

"We hooked up on New Year's Eve at the Beach Bash," Janna said.

"Weren't you going out with Patrick Tan?" Keri said.

"No, we broke up before Christmas. And then he rebounded with Serena White. But then she got togethre with Christian Gough at New Year's, and then Patrick wanted to get back with me, and I said no chance, and then Serena changed her mind, and they hooked up again anyway." Janna shrugged. "Whatever, right? Anyway, I don't cheat." She picked up her glass.

"Oh, yes, you do," Keri said. "You married me behind the bike sheds when we were seven. We exchanged gummy rings. Does that mean nothing to you? You're a cheating whore, Stardust, and I want a divorce."

Janna snorted into her drink and flapped her hands wildly. "No fair," she protested when she got her breath back. "You're not allowed to be funny when I've got something in my mouth."

"That's what you say to all the boys." Keri sighed and turned to Sione before Janna could respond with more than stutters. "So, now talk. I guess you brought the laptop for a reason?"

He nodded and opened it without speaking. It was better to be careful with girls like Keri, all fast brain and sharp tongue; they could turn you inside out in double time.

I had to stop and marvel at this passage when I read it: you get backstory, character development, realistic teen dialogue, and humor, all in one short sequence, and the bonus of a deep friendship bond between girls. You also learn that Sione isn't totally over Janna, that Janna isn't totally over Patrick, and that Keri isn't totally over the end of her friendship with Janna; and through Sione's silence during this dialogue, we learn just as much about him as we do the girls. And the writing itself is marvelously clean and simple. I LOVE IT.

The one thing I didn't love is that the POV switches from chapter to chapter. I don't like POV switches generally, especially within the same narrative arc. But YA does this all the time, so it's not a big deal, just something you have to live with. What threw me off is that we're in 3rd person for Janna and Sione's POV, but we're in 1st person in Keri's. It was an odd and inexplicable imbalance. There are emotional reasons for putting Keri's POV in 1st-person, but the inconsistency between the other POVs just seemed odd. That said, overall I enjoyed all three POV's--Keri's, Janna's, and Sione's--equally, though I think I enjoyed the 3rd person sections a bit more.

(Thompson Mountains, Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand)

The most unique thing about KH's writing, I think, is that magic is dealt with so subtly and straightforwardly that it almost doesn't feel like a fantasy. Even when she's writing things that make you do double takes, like the sobbing tourists or the crowning of Takeshi as the next Summer King, she's doing it without any hint of surrealism or drama. It creates a very flat effect--the lack of stylized horror in the text actually heightens the drama. This creates a kind of hypnotic effect on the reader--[personal profile] regicidaldwarf was just talking about how she pulled an all-nighter to finish the book, because it really is a 'once you start, you can't look away' effect.

Sort of like the one Summerton has on tourists. ;)

(Sterling Falls, Milford Sound, NZ)

Does it end on a cliffhanger only designed to make you buy more books? Nope! This book, by the way, has no relation to KH's debut novel, Guardian of the Dead, which is also a standalone (though I believe fans are rightly clamoring for a sequel.) No, Karen Healey relies on something much stronger than cliffhangers to get you to want to buy her books. And believe me, you will.


If you're like me, before Guardian of the Dead came along all you really new of New Zealand and its culture and people could be summed up as a) Lord of the Rings and b) Whale Rider. KH is, I think, very cognizant of that, and so she makes the setting a major character in her writing, and allows the mythos of the environment to become part of the plot itself.

The scenic beauty of the coast is so intense that it fills in the gothic edges and stylized fantasy that the book itself shies away from. It's The Wicker Man with a shooting script by Werner Herzog--letting the land itself serve as the heart of this book's darkness, Healey creates a docudrama--newsreel footage of a grand guignol on the beach. It's a dark transcript that touches on everything from suicide to racism to homophobia to mass murder, the tensions ignited by the chaotic, surreal beauty of the landscape itself.

(Piha, West Coast. New Zealand)

For days after I read The Shattering I found myself still thinking about its sense of place, culture, and identity. If Guardian of the Dead was a book for the boldhearted individualist, The Shattering has expanded its focus. It asks: how do we, who are still struggling to realize our own identities and establish our own autonomy and even our worth as individuals, form a community?

The answer isn't easy, but it is, ultimately, something better: it's real.

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