Review: The Shattering by Karen Healey

The Shattering by Karen Healey. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011. Currently Available

Genre: Paranormal/Fantasy/Contemporary

Face Value: I don’t love this cover, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. While I don’t think it really tells you much about the book, and doesn’t drive me to pick it up, it also doesn’t give misinformation

Does it Break the Slate? YES! Oh my goodness, yes. Healey has created these three incredible protagonists, first of all, who all go on a Slatebreaking, self-defining journey throughout the course of the book. And there is a ton of subtle exploration of gender stereotypes and how they are damaging for everyone – male and female. Plus a huge bonus factor for including a wide range of diverse characters. The major characters in this book are gay and straight, Maori, Samoan, White and Japanese, and while all of these things are addressed as part of the characters identities, they are woven seamlessly into the narrative.

Who would we give it to? I feel like this book could be a great introduction to fantasy, because it’s also still so rooted in contemporary realism. I would recommend it to lovers of both genres. Readers of mysteries would probably get into it as well.

Review:  Summerton (in New Zealand) is the perfect vacation town. There’s a small population of locals, but during the holidays it’s flooded with tourists, all of whom are entranced by its beauty. It seems magical, too good to be true. But there are darker secrets beneath all of that gorgeous weather and picturesque landscape. When Keri, Janna and Sione start to investigate their older brothers’ suicides (along with a string of others) they find themselves caught up in something much, much bigger.

What’s amazing to me about this book is that I didn’t even realize it was a paranormal book until partway in. The contemporary realism – Keri’s emotional response to her brother’s death and anxiety about coming out to her parents without him there to support her, Janna’s ambitions in music and struggles with school, Sione’s guilt at not having a better relationship with his brother before he died – it’s all so beautifully, emotionally rendered for us on the page. The progression of the friendship between our three protagonists, the romances that emerge, the way Healy depicts the strange inevitability of life going on after a tragedy – it’s all captured the way the best realism writers capture these little moments. Given that, you would think it would be a shock to have the paranormal twist behind the terrible happenings in Summerton, but it actually works just as well – as readers we are only allowed to be as skeptical as our protagonists are, and once they believe it, we believe it too. The magic is terrifying and creepy, but confronting a fantastical enemy doesn’t make the emotional fallout any less real.

The Shattering is particularly notable for its use and subversion of the expected. The one sentence description – a sleepy vacation town full of quirky locals harbors sinister secrets – is a pretty common horror trope. But the world Healey creates in this book is so much richer than that. All the expected characters are there, from the friendly police officer to the secretive shop owner, but everything plays out in a way that feels new, and even scarier because of it.

And from a Slatebreaking perspective, there’s also a real commitment to addressing gender stereotypes in a meaningful way.  We have these amazing characters, especially our three protagonists, and each of them has to deal with negative fallout from gendered expectations, whether its Keri’s struggle to come out to her family and community, knowing the prejudice in a small town; Janna’s frustrations with being labeled a slut for being outspoken and sexually confident or Sione’s treatment as less than a man by other locals because he doesn’t conform to traditional gendered or racial stereotypes.

And even though these are all huge issues, they are not in the least brushed aside or just paid lip service to. These questions of identity is what makes these characters who they are, and it is the characters upon which this story rests more than anything else. And they are such great, complicated, characters. While I related most strongly to Keri (partially because she’s the only character written in first person and partially because of her desire to plan out a response to absolutely anything bad that might happen ahead of time) I found myself with such deep empathy for all of them. The growing friendship between these three is probably the thing I actually loved best about the story.  I’ve heard great things about the rest of Healey’s work too, and I can’t wait to read them.

Reviewed from library copy.

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2 Responses to Review: The Shattering by Karen Healey

  1. Wow. I’m DEFINITELY going to have to add this one to my to-read list after reading your review. I’m kind of surprised to say that I’ve never heard of this one, but thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    • Sarah says:

      It’s a REALLY good one. I’m reading her first book, Guardian of the Dead, right now and it’s also quite good (though Shattering is better). Also, I listened to it on audio & that was a great experience if you’re in the habit of that at all…

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