The Shattering by Karen Healey

21 03 2012

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? 

 Last year I read Karen Healey’s debut novel, Guardian of the Dead (which may be known in some circles as “that cover with the creepy eye mask thing”, those circles being my sister and I), and really enjoyed it for its unique combinations of mystery and mythology. Her second novel, The Shatteringwas one I eagerly anticipated and I’m glad to say it met up to my expectations. 

The novel once again takes place in New Zealand, Healey’s forte it seems as well as where she lives. Keri, Janna, and Sione are three completely different teenagers spending the summer in Summerton. (Keri and Janna live there; Sione is a tourist.) They have one connection: all three of their older brothers committed suicide. However, none of their brothers left behind a note, any kind of reason, and didn’t act suicidal. The three decide that they think their brothers were murdered and team up together to figure out just who killed them. 

The plot, I think, is a bit genre-bending. For the first half or so of the book the story seems contemporary, rooted in a modern day time period off the New Zealand coast. There are a few mentions of witches – the town of Summertown has a witchery store that Keri’s brother’s girlfriend works at – but for the most it seems to be contemporary. Then about halfway through the story the focus becomes much more based on fantasy and mythology, as Maori mythology is woven through and the witchery shop becomes more prominent. I found this to be a little jarring, especially as it’s such a sudden switch, but it does work well for the story, as our three main characters must slowly begin to believe in magic. 

The other qualm I had with the plot was the ending. The climax of the story is a battle and as the story winds down the characters must recover from the battle and move on with their lives. The ending seemed rushed, trying to fit in tons of information in only a few chapters. I wanted it to go slower, especially after such a dramatic battle scene, but the book went quickly and wrapped everything up in a number of rushed pages. Other than those two issues I found the plot to be pretty unique, an interesting take on grief and suicide. 

The characters I liked. They were strong and independent, and Keri, Janna, and Sione both had strong, unique voices. Keri was quiet; Janna was a rebel type; and Sione was in the middle, unsure of his identity. These descriptions are of course broad strokes, and they are truly three-dimensional and in-depth characters. The issue I had with the characters was this – how they were written. Keri may be the most central of the characters, the one that holds up the narrative. She’s written in a very likable, strong first person voice. However, Janna and Sione were written in more of a detached third person. I liked Keri’s perspective more – I felt I grew to know her more in first person – and while I enjoyed reading about Janna and Sione, I felt less connected to them in third person. This change of perspectives seemed a bit strange to me, but it confirmed my theory that Keri is the more central of the trio. I really did enjoy all three characters but my opinion was detracted by the writing. 

However, the writing is pretty. It’s fluid and sweet, and Healey certainly can show and write how teenagers act and talk. She seems better at first person then third ( Guardian of the Dead is written in first) but her writing was still strong. 

I enjoyed the story, and I will stick around for Healey’s other books – she seems to be a strong emerging writer. I had some issues but if you enjoy mythology, fantasy, or contemporary, this would be a good choice for you – and you’ll learn a bit about New Zealand. 
Four stars. 

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