The Shattering by Karen Healey

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’tprepared 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?

Considering Karen Healey wrote an excellent debut that included an openly asexual supporting character, I am practically honor-bound to read any other book she writes. No ace people this time, but still a lot of awesome, diverse characters living in a seemingly average world that’s really more extradordinary and unnatural than at first glance.

I enjoyed having the outlooks of three protagonists. They each brought their own perspective to the situation, as well as their own abilities to solve the mystery. Janna’s viewpoint was the most fun to read, simply because she’s so vivacious and colorful. Her alternate persona is named Starfire, and that fits her to the letter. Always outgoing, bubbly, and looking for fun, but doing all she can to get out of Summertown, become a star, and never look back. I loved the depth she was given and how she was portrayed as a sunny, party-type girl who doesn’t seem to take much seriously, but there are reasons why she falls back on her Starfire persona.

Keri’s viewpoint was also fun to read. Even though her brother committed suicide only recently, she’s still has the coolest head out of the three of them. She thought she had prepared for the worst, except she had never planned for her brother killing himself without leaving a note. Every step she takes in tracking down the murderer she does for him. She has a lot of internal strength, but still needs the support of her friends and family because otherwise she will crack.

However, Sione’s viewpoint tended to fall flat more often than not, simply because he’s so timid and insecure. He was continually caught up in his own perception of how people see him, which is that of an awkward loser who cares too much about dressing well and is unable to be the socially outgoing person his brother was. Although it was pretty cool to have a male character that had a lot of qualities usually considered effeminate in a guy, I still felt frustrated that he kept fixating on how much other people didn’t love him and how he just sits there and absorbs all these negative attitudes people throw at him. Also, he didn’t actively work as much as Keri and Janna did in finding the murderer besides providing the initial data that something fishy was up.

Easily the best part of this book was the multiple characters and their interactions with each other. I didn’t feel like any one of them was stereotyped and everyone, including the villains, felt like genuine people. It’s easy when writing about small-town dynamics to fall back on tried-and-true stereotypes, but that doesn’t happen here.

On the flip side, I wasn’t as into the progression of the plot. The initial set-up is intriguing – every year a boy who was in Summertown during New Year’s Eve commits suicide and he’s always the eldest of siblings. Given these shared characteristics, the three protaginists come to the conclusion that they were all murdered. However, the actual mystery in terms of who’s murdering the boys and how they’re murdered is set up in such a manner that there are no real surprises. It’s almost obvious who the perpetrators are because, with the given cast of characters, it’s easy to pick out who’s guilty. I don’t think that there was supposed to be a heavy mystery element in the book, but given the fact that Keri, Janna, and Sione are trying to find a murderer, some amount of mystery is a given, and this given was not utilized nearly enough.

Also, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the magic in the story. The magic takes the form of modern-day paganism via spells and rituals. This was disconcerting for me because, to the extent of my knowledge, many of the spells the characters perform are similar to spells practicing pagans would use in reality. So the actions are no different from real life, but the results are more “magical”. Take out the pagan element, and the book reads as entirely contemporary. The choice to have the magical element closely parallel actual pagan spells and rituals was one that didn’t work for me. However, I could be completely wrong in how I’m reading this, considering I don’t actually practice paganism.

There are many good points about this book and it’s in no way badly written. However, compared to the author’s debut, there was some unevenness, due to the way the plot played out and the particular use of magic. Still, the author excels at writing characters that turn stereotpes on their heads. You can tell from her writing that she really respects the characters she writes and the people she writes about, and that is why I will always continue to read whatever she writes. This book showcased her strengths while containing some issues, but overall, it’s an enjoyable book.

Disclosure – library

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