Title: The Shattering
Author: Karen Healey
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Imprint: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pub Date: 09/05/2011
Category: YOUNG ADULT: Mysteries & Detective Stories. Fantasy, & Magic
Like the best of speculative fiction, this refreshingly different young adult book beautifully illuminates reality and highlights truth, in this case, the nature of grieving for those left behind after the suicide of a loved one. ‘The Shattering’ also has an imaginative take on the term ‘magic’ when we apply it to a beautiful landscape.
Have you ever seen the glassy-eyed stare of a tourist as they stand bewitched by the beauty of a glittering bay? You may look at that stuporific stare a little differently after reading this book. Summertown is on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, and having grown up near Christchurch, I know better than most how impossible it is for a town on the Coast to always be sunny between Christmas and New Year. Yet Summertown is. The locals put it down to a special microclimate, but some of them know different, and in the course of the novel, our three main characters unmask the conspiracy.
The story is told from the view point of Sione, a Samoan boy visiting from Auckland, Jana, a local Pakeha (New Zealander of primarily Anglo descent) and Keri, a Maori girl. All of them have lost an older brother to suicide and are suffering the after affects, but when Sione looked into the data on suicides in New Zealand, he discovered that one boy every year who suicided was in Summertown on New Years Eve and each of them was the oldest sibling. Is this just a coincidence or does it suggest that these suicides were in fact murder? When their search for a 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?
The main characters are fully fleshed out, realistic and likeable with a range of the usual kind of adolescent insecurities and secrets. They are very different to each other and what brings them together is their shared grief and quest for answers. The relationships between them are complex, and when a magical spell tries to break the friendship apart, they find themselves telling each other the worst thoughts they may have had about each other but would normally never say. I found this a particularly interesting idea, because not only did they forgive their bewitched friends for their outbursts, but also what was said became a cause for self-reflection.
I really enjoyed the New Zealand setting, partially because it’s one I’m familiar with, but also because it’s different to most contemporary novels in this genre. To those who have never been to New Zealand, I expect it will give the novel an exotic feel.
The effect that suicide has on those left behind was beautifully and sensitively portrayed. We see the shattered parents and bereft siblings searching for an explanation for the tragedy, primarily, why did he do it and what did we do wrong? We gain a sense of the unrelenting nature of grief and we are left to ponder whether or not the grieving would be easier if you discover the death was murder.
I recommend this for all young adults and particularly for anyone in danger of contemplating suicide. The message is – think about those you’ll be leaving behind. I give it 5 stars.