Author: Karen Healey
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: September 5 2011
Hardcover: 320 pages
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?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did we get this book: e-ARCs from NetGalley
Why did we read this book: Because we totally loved Karen Healey’s 2010 debut novel Guardian of the Dead and couldn’t wait to read more from her.
Ana: Karen Healey’s first book, Guardian of the Dead, took me entirely by surprise last year and it even made its way to my top 10 of 2010. I had been waiting for her sophomore novel ever since and it is with great relief that I say that The Shattering is yet another great book following up on the steps of GoD and featuring an incredible cast of diverse, three dimensional characters who carry the story through with aplomb. I loved it from beginning to ending.
Thea: Like Ana, I too loved Karen Healey’s debut novel, Guardian of the Dead and could not wait to get my hands on this second novel. And, I am thrilled to say that in my humble opinion, The Shattering is a fantastic book that outshines Guardian. With its triad of awesome protagonists, tight plotting, smart supernatural angle, and careful attention to serious issues (like coming out and teenage suicide), The Shattering is a phenomenal book and easily one of my notable, if not favorite, reads of 2011.
On the Plot:
Ana: Welcome to Summerton: the perfect tourist destination with its always sunny weather, stunning scenery and lovely people….until three teenagers realise that there is something wrong about its perfection. Keri’s older brother has just committed suicide leaving her shattered and lost. So when her former childhood friend Janna and out-of-town Sione, whose brothers also apparently committed suicide, tell her that these suicides might be murders, she is keen on investigating further.
In terms of plot, it is easy to guess what is going on in Summertown and anyone even remotely familiar with pagan folklore or horror movies will be able to recognise it. In that sense, the story has a level of familiarity and predictability and on a personal note, this horror trope is not one of my own favourites. This in no way means that the story is not well executed. Quite the contrary: I am a firm believer that even the most familiar of the stories can be well done in the hands of a good writer – which is definitely the case here. Although the overall premise is familiar, the development of the story follows its own original beat, including really surprising twists and turns.
Even though the story of Summerton and what is happening there is what propels the plot forward, this is mostly a character-driven story which is the reason why I loved it so much. It does have paranormal elements but I feel that at its core, The Shattering is one of those rare animals that combine a good, solid Paranormal/Fantasy story with the best of realistic, contemporary YA. As such, it addresses themes such as coming out, diversity, identity, teen suicide, religion, economical problems and much more with considerable finesse – meaning that these issues are incorporated naturally in the story, without any didacticism because the story is set in the real world and the real world is a diverse place. Simple as that – and that is what makes Karen Healey such a winning writer to my eyes.
It is also worth of note that just like Guardian of the Dead, The Shattering is a stand-alone novel. You don’t need to read GoD in order to read The Shattering (but why wouldn’t you? Both these novels are so amazing.).
Thea: In many respects, The Shattering is familiar because it uses a common horror trope for its central conflict – namely, the idyllic small town loaded with dirty secrets, involving dark arts and human sacrifices and the like. This, as Ana says, leads to a certain level of predictability in terms of the story. That said, I happen to love this particular trope – when done well, the creep level is fantastic – and prefer it infinitely to the “girl meets (hot) boy and (sparkly) supernatural ‘dangerous’ stuff happens” trope.[1. I should note that while at surface level, Guardian of the Dead does use the girl meets hot supernatural dude trope, it does it perfectly by incorporating a sweet blend of mythologies with a fantastic, unique heroine. THAT makes all the difference in the world.] And, since I’m more predisposed to love the horror trope, it makes sense then that I ate this particular mystery up. Despite the familiarity of the premise, The Shattering is by no means straight-up predictable – there are a few huge twists that truly took me by surprise, and I loved the heartbreaking revelations in this book, especially at the end of the novel. Perhaps what I loved the most about this book was the fact that it actually takes a close, balanced look at some very serious and real issues – teen suicide, coming out, grief, confidence, identity – and handles all of them with the respect and attention they deserve. This, dear readers, is freaking awesome.
From a more general worldbuilding standpoint, as with her prior novel, Karen Healey expertly blends love for New Zealand, as well as Maori tradition and mythology with a more familiar western sensibility (in this case, witchcraft). Beyond that, there’s also an incisive look at the different divides within the country and town of Summerton itself – there are the rich tourists from Auckland and other bigger cities that come to the west coast town for summer, and there are the townies that make their home in Summerton, and of course there is tension between the locals and visitors. I loved that through the three main characters, we see this divide very clearly, as Sione is an “outsider” while Janna and Keri are locals with a different understanding and perspective of their hometown.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my one niggle with Guardian of the Dead (the slight info-dumping that would occur with Maori myth for the benefit of non-New Zealander readers) was very cleverly avoided in this sophomore effort from Ms. Healy. In The Shattering, instead of having periodic, awkward explanations of certain phrases or practices (which would feel completely inauthentic given that all the characters, save one, in this book are from New Zealand), there’s a glossary at the end of the book for readers to peruse.
On the Characters:
Thea: Oh, the CHARACTERS. While I loved the plotting and the central premise of the book, it is the characters that truly bring The Shattering to the next level. Told in alternating narratives from the points of view of the three main characters, Keri, Janna and Sione work together to unravel the mystery of the annual suicides that seem to stem from Summerton. All three characters are fantastic, distinctly detailed individuals, and each of them has his/her own heart-wrenching storyarc. I loved them all.
I loved Sione, the son of a wealthy family who struggles with the memories of a brother he wasn’t truly close to, but robbed of the possibility that they could have been friends in the future. Sione struggles with his feelings of ineptitude, his unrequited crush on Janna, the fact that he is Samoan and has a Samoan name, but is seen as a rich kid, a “potato.”
I loved Janna for her unrestrained ambition, her desire to become her onstage persona Stardust, and leave Summerton behind. I loved that she’s a gorgeous girl, she knows it, and she isn’t afraid to go after the boys she wants – and that she isn’t slut-shamed or portrayed as a somehow inferior character because she likes looking good and getting her way (although OTHER characters make their own ignorant comments, this is to be expected and I think handled very well by the author). I loved that Janna herself struggles with other people seeing her as a joke, her troubles with school, and her dyslexia.
And, most of all, I loved Keri. Keri’s character arc is easily the most heartwrenching, and she is easily my favorite character of the book. Keri’s logic, her calculating mind with its inability to believe that her brother killed himself, her stubbornness, her dedication – I loved it all. Also, it’s really refreshing to read YA books, especially of the supernatural variety, where teens have actual relationships with parents, and I loved the portrayal of Keri’s strained relationship with her mother and father following her brother’s death.
While the three protagonists are flawlessly written, the only thing I wish we could have had more of on the character front was depth to the villains. While I loved that this is not a black and white story where evil villains are punished for their villainy, I wish that there could have been a little more examination of certain characters and their motivations beyond the obvious. That said, this is a very minor niggle in what is otherwise a damn near flawless book.
Ana: And so we have come to the part where I am going to FREAK OUT in this review and let loose the CAPS LOCKS OF LOVE, because just like Thea I loved the characters and they make this book and GODDAMN IT, does Karen Healey have a knack for writing awesome characters or what and why Lord of the Books, why can’t all books have characters like these? Characters that have DEPTH, and multiple dimensions and flaws and FEELINGS and real motivations and AMBITION?
I loved these characters for the very same reasons that Thea stated above and she’s done an awesome job at analysing them – so I won’t repeat the same points. But above all, I loved them because they are so realistically portrayed. One of my greatest pet peeves as a reviewer is how whenever I address problematic aspects of a novel like for example homophobia or slut-shaming that go unchecked within the novel, invariably someone brings up the fact that this is realistic, that these things exist in the world. It may be so, but well, it shouldn’t be like this. Furthermore, they might be realistic portrayals of the “real world”, but they are problematic portrayals nonetheless. More than that though – there are other possible, more complex portrayals of the world that are equally realistic and I love when an author chooses to go that way.
Furthermore, I love that there is a multi-ethnic cast of characters with White, Samoan, Japanese and Maori ancestry which are a matter of distinction but which in no way, limit them to being that and that alone. All characters, even the secondary ones are well defined and although yes, the villains could have their motivations more fleshed out, I loved the fact they were all ordinary people doing evil things for what they thought was the greater good. It doesn’t get more complex than that.
Let us sit and rejoice on the fact that there are books like these around.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: I loved The Shattering highly recommend it to readers who love Paranormal/Horror/Fantasy and Contemporary YA. This catapulted Karen Healey to the top of my Awesome Authors list.
Thea: The Shattering is one of those books that gets better upon reflection – the more I think about it, the more I love it. I absolutely recommend this title to everyone, and cannot wait for the next novel from this incredibly talented author.
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.
(Thanks to Bookshop for the quote.)
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Thea: 8 – Excellent, leaning towards a 9
Reading next: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
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