It’s official. Tahereh Mafi has finally really impressed me. I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of her books (Shatter Me, Defy Me, A Very Large Expanse of Sea) but there was always something preventing me from singing full praise, and now here we are, with a cover that uses a dark-gray colour for the background almost the same as the very first one, and an eye with diamonds as eyelashes showing that the time for games is over and to be prepared for a stabbing.
So after five books in the series, Juliette Ferrars, real name recently revealed as Ella, has proposed to her boyfriend Aaron Warner Anderson. The whole squad of her friends are at a place called Sanctuary, safe because a new ally named Nouria manages to manipulate light in a way that makes them invisible to the regular eye. The thing is, though, Ella’s long-missing sister Emmaline is still being tortured at her now-deceased mother’s factory in Oceania, and begging for death. Not only that, Paris Anderson is back from the dead and on the hunt for them all. Everyone thinks, after Juliette and Warner were able to escape, that they’d at least have a bit of time to cool off, that they can have a bit of time to get their bearings. They end up really wrong.
I had hope for this supposed final entry after Defy Me. That book was quite a roller coaster, which I wasn’t used to. It was the first book since the original that separated most of the characters and having them in dire situations from the get-go. Having dialogue, communication between characters in a book is never a bad thing by itself; it’s always been just a bit overbearing in this series, especially for a dystopia. Defy Me gave me a real sense of excitement and adventure. But I was hesitant to read this book with absolute certainty it would continue that way.
The two biggest flaws in this series, in my opinion, is its throwaway of a unique crossout-filtered writing style it came up with, and an overrated main romance. The crossouts were properly utilized in the first two books but never properly returned after that. And in my opinion, it oversells the love between Juliette and Warner while blatantly underplaying her former relationship with Adam which I feel was much more pure and healthy. Not only that, but Adam’s been pretty much exempt from the series since the second book, and sadly, he still is here. And Adam plays a pivotal part in this entry and that storyline is not properly explored, which is the biggest flaw of Imagine Me. Also, during a big rescue mission, Kenji ends up really having to empty his bladder, and he manages to do so on enemy territory, and then makes a big show to thoroughly wash his hands with Warner watching so he won’t judge him. I don’t need to tell you that’s unrealistic behaviour in the middle of the belly of the beast. Mafi also didn’t follow up on a supposed gay romance between Brendan and Winston. But here’s the kick: apart from still not utilizing the crossouts, the usual rough romance, and a few areas that should’ve been rethought or more explored, Imagine Me is just about perfect. It’s exactly what I wanted Ignite Me to be as the former finale to the series.
Ignite Me was a 420-paged poetry piece consisting of a regrouping, a love confession, and only 20 of its pages were used for an assassination mission of an un
derutilized antagonist. Imagine Me on the other hand has ambushes, mental breakdowns, massacres, brainwashings, attempted poisonings, a utilized antagonist, and has Kenji and all his glorious humour as the main storyteller.
The first three Shatter Me books got progressively worse, and the new three got progressively better. I may even be up for three more books, but I don’t want to jinx the record. Even if half the books in this now-six-book series I’ve given negative reviews to, Mafi has managed to write a series that’s always kept me invested, a series where I’ve flown through every instalment, and she’s managed to conclude this (maybe for now) on a high note.