I cannot let the broken girl inside of me inhale all that I’ve become. I cannot revert back to another version of myself. I will not shatter, not again, in the wake of an emotional earthquake.
– Tahereh Mafi, Restore Me
There’s something about Tahereh Mafi’s prose that lets me overlook a lot of problems with this series. It’s why I picked up Restore Me. Why I found myself drawn into Juliette’s world, despite my low opinion of Shatter Me:
Stunningly beautiful metaphors used to describe Juliette’s inner turmoil and surrounding landscape was not enough to save Shatter Me from a powerless heroine, a nonexistent plot and weak world-building.
Or my possibly lower opinion of Unravel Me:
And then I realized it wasn’t Unravel Me per se that I disliked, but it’s heroine; it’s pathetically whiney, dependent and frail heroine.
Well, the prose and the gorgeous covers! So glad they ditched the girl in a dress motif that was popular in 2012! Anyways, back to Restore Me.
I don’t really want to talk about Restore Me though. Long story short, it was ok. The steamy scenes between Juliette and Warner were fire, literally. A couple of the twists also had me eager for more. Overall though, the plot was wonky and Juliette seemed to regress, with echoes of her earlier insecurities threatening to overcome her at every turn.
So what do I want to talk about?
When presented with a tormented heroine like Juliette, a heroine who has a history filled with unspeakable horrors. A heroine who spent much of her childhood in solitary confinement. A heroine who is manipulated at the hands of her captives. How much “tolerance” should we have for the side effects?
When I look back at my review for Unravel Me, there’s a part of me that cringes:
I understand that Juliette had a tough childhood. I understand that she was tortured at a young age and that there will be psychological repercussions because of it. I understand that this might lead to moments of confusion/angst/self-pity/etc. But understanding and believing are two different things.
Who am I to dictate how someone should react to years of physical and mental torture? What experience can I draw from to help better empathize with the emotions Juliette must be experiencing? Who’s to say that under similar circumstances, I wouldn’t be angsty and self-pitying?
This is where I think tolerance plays a factor.
Does tolerance mean that I have to be able to envision myself in every heroine’s shoes who’s been through trying times? Does it mean I can’t ask for my heroine’s to grow throughout a series if they’ve experienced significant trauma or loss? Does it mean I have to accept every “whiney” and “powerless” moment? Nah.
For me, tolerance is understanding that heroine’s like Juliette in Restore Me are flawed in ways I won’t always understand. Just because it’s not how I think I would react in similar circumstances, doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate reaction.
But that doesn’t mean these heroines get a free pass, either.
Ultimately, what I was trying to capture in my review of Unravel Me was this: regardless of what a character has been through, I won’t be able to join them on their journey if I don’t believe their reactions are organic. While a significant trauma may make someone unpredictable from one moment to the next, as reader, I need to see long-term consistency. There can be blips along the way, moments of weakness. But overall, I need to see growth.
I need to see how changing circumstances impact characters’ decisions and reactions. I need to be able to relate a questionable decision to their time of trauma; I need to be able to connect the dots. To truly understand why they are weak in any given moment, I have to believe it’s tied to something from their past – and not something the author is leaning on to drive the plot forward.
So where are these moments of weakness when Juliette’s alone, or in the dark? Where are her flashbacks to how she was treated at the hands of Warner’s father when she catches a glimpse of him in Warner’s face? Would those situations not be equally, if not more, triggering? Seemingly, Juliette’s traumatic history only seems to get in her way when she’s emotionally heightened. Which is why I have such low tolerance for her inconsistencies: the connecting of the dots is missing.