We’re about to meet Warner soon! Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series is disgusting in how it romanticizes abuse. To this day, I can’t think about this book series without wanting to vomit. The fact that so many readers of this book have fallen in love with the abusive party, Warner, is so deeply disturbing to me. There is nothing redeemable about this character and yet, somehow, Mafi has successfully manipulated her readers into liking him. Well, I’m here to point out why this book series is an incredible problem and how wrong it is that Warner was ever posited as a love interest.
Let’s talk about manipulation.
Mafi does a lot of this. She spends a great deal of time manipulating the emotions of her readers. At times, I’ll admit, this can be an excellent writing tool. You can use it to hide a twist–which I guess you could claim is Mafi’s intention, but she failed horrendously if that is the case–which you will see often in who-done-it mysteries as you try to suss out who the killer was. And in those areas, it works well. You’re supposed to use deductive reasoning skills to determine which suspects are a careful manipulation and which are the real murderers.
The thing is…you, as a reader, are very aware of this manipulation. You expect it and you see it as a way to build upon your ability to accurately determine who the true villain is. This kind of manipulation is expected when you pick up mystery or thriller novels. Thus, it never feels cheap or forced.
The way Mafi does it, however, is disturbing. Her manipulation is cheap and it is definitely forced. And I think I feel this way because, as you read the series, you can tell she does it for shock value and to force us to feel the way she wants us to. It’s not a sincere manipulation, but rather a desire to make her readers agree with the path she sets for her characters. It’s also disturbing because she manipulates us to hate the nice character and love the abusive asshole.
What’s interesting to me is that so many people fell for it.
How she manipulates us with Adam:
Here we are with Adam’s set up. He is a nice person. He is compassionate, he is respectful, and he cares about others. You’ll see as I continue that she really builds upon Juliette and Adam’s relationship. She makes implications that they have loved each other since they were kids. She develops an incredibly strong bond between them because of their shared childhood abuse and their shared watching of each other from afar. The fact that they both share the act of watching and developing feelings for each other based on the small things that they noticed is an incredibly important detail to their relationship.
And Mafi sets up all of this for them to love each other.
She will later rip that to shreds, manipulating her readers into believing that the only reason Juliette ever loved Adam was because she was caught up in the exhilaration of the fact that he was the only person who wanted to touch her.
Alright, fine. Let’s unpack that.
I actually think this is a fascinating and brilliant idea. The truth is that someone who has been starved affection her whole life, who has had everyone terrified of touching her would definitely “fall in love” with the first person who was willing and unafraid to show her compassion and touch her. Juliette craved touch, love, and acceptance her whole life and Adam is the first person to give it all to her. Of course it makes sense that she would “love” him for those reasons alone.
Psychologically, that makes sense.
But this is not the story that Mafi writes for us.
Instead, Mafi suggests that Juliette and Adam knew of each other and genuinely cared for one another before any compassion or acceptance was given from either of them. She suggests they cared long before they even really knew the other person. This is not how you set up a story where you can expect your readers to believe that the only reason she “loved” him was because he was the first to treat her nicely.
The indifference Mafi will later write Juliette with in order to manipulate her readers into hating Adam does not for a single second match the set-up we get for these two characters.
And it’s a problem.
How she manipulates with Warner:
I honestly wouldn’t have cared one iota about the inconsistencies with what she did to Adam if Warner hadn’t been the replacement love interest. Here’s the problem with Warner; Mafi sets her readers up to hate him from the very first second we meet him. She introduces him as calculated evil. It is because of this that I wonder if she always intended for him to be a love interest or if that was a change she made later. If the first, that is disgusting. If the second, that is idiotic. Either way, it’s a problem.
I’ll give Mafi this; she does an excellent job at creating this abhorrent character. We barely get a few pages with him and already it is unquestionably clear that he is a piece of shit. He is very clearly the sort of person who only cares about himself. He thinks first about his wants, his desires, and then never even bothers to consider others. Not only that, but Warner is utterly ruthless in his cruelty. He causes pain and he enjoys doing so. Even when it comes to this girl whom he has supposedly become so fascinated with that he loves her, his first interactions with her are to hurt.
Exactly how am I supposed to be okay with Warner later becoming a love interest after what is presented to us in the very first chapter that we meet him? Exactly how am I supposed to find his amusement at her pain okay to forgive? Where is there anything in this character worth liking? Just look at who she introduces us to. What is redeemable about this character? What the hell makes him acceptable as a love interest?
The answer: absofuckinglutely nothing!
How the hell am I supposed to see their relationship as anything other than one in which the abuser has manipulated his obsession into caring about him? How am I supposed to believe he sees her as anything other than an object for him to own and control?
I don’t care what “changes” he supposedly makes later down the line. Nothing about his behavior in 100% of this first book merits for him to receive any forgiveness from her later down the line. He does not ever deserve her forgiveness. He does not ever even earn her forgiveness. Being “broken” is not an excuse to abuse someone. Being “watched” is not an excuse to abuse someone.
Honestly? Fuck Warner. This is not a character who is viable as a love interest in any way. Plain and simple. And the fact that Mafi tried to manipulate me into “forgiving him,” all so I wouldn’t recognize how abhorrently wrong it is that Juliette returns to and falls for her abuser, is despicable.
Violence, pain, and objects.
Something else that is important to note in these chapters is Juliette’s relationship with violence and dehumanizing herself. Her touch literally can kill and thus there is an intriguing connection that she makes between caring and hurting. She does this with herself most often, but she also does this with Adam. She has an incredibly hard time differentiating between harm and care, ultimately because she sees her own actions as having meant to be caring but the end result was actually more harmful in the end.
She can clearly see there’s a difference between violence and care, yet the whole thing regularly becomes clouded in her mind. You see it time and time again as she continues throughout the book. As someone who grew up abused, it does make sense to her character. Then, ultimately, it’s also not surprising that she ends up with someone else who absuses her. And sure, you can say that, when rooted in psychology these aspects of the human condition are not all that uncommon. The problem, therein, lies in the fac that Mafi suggests it is romantic for her to be with her abuser. Mafi suggests that he is worth forgiving.
He is not.