Ignite Me author Tahereh Mafi explains how her favorite literary characters helped her to write someone who learned to stand on her own, make decisions, and not apologize.
The Shatter Me series, in a sentence, is about a girl with a lethal touch fighting a dystopian society that wants to use her as a weapon. But at its heart, it’s about a girl who learns to put the pieces of herself back together.
When we meet Juliette in the first book, she’s on the brink of insanity. She’s practically a crazed, skittish animal, afraid of interaction, afraid of herself, afraid of everything. She has nothing but terrified thoughts to keep her company, and she’s entirely convinced she’s a monster with a monstrous ability. Worse still, she thinks she deserves the terrible way she’s been treated.
This self-destructive behavior bleeds into the prose. The book is riddled with strikethroughs, repetition, an obsession with words and numbers, and bizarre, abstract, half-formed thoughts. But as Juliette learns to find herself — her voice, her strength, her faith in who she really is — the writing calms itself, and shoves aside the chaos of her inner monologue to make room for her to speak out loud.
By the end of the series, Juliette is a girl who stands on her own, makes her own decisions, and does not apologize for who she is. She’s spent the first two books consumed by war from the inside out: suffocated by her own personal demons, and surrounded by death and destruction in a world falling apart. But she walks away from the series a stronger person than she ever thought she could be, having fought and won the war we wage every day against ourselves: the fear that we are not good enough.
Some of the strongest women I’ve ever met have been the ones fighting quiet battles. Women with little physical strength and yet, great, astounding perseverance through difficulty. Women who’ve carried the burdens of others without complaint; women who, through thankless, selfless labor, have saved their families in times of terrible devastation. These women inspire me in countless ways, and their stories move me beyond words. So it comes as no surprise to me that, even in fiction, my favorite characters are ladies who save the day.
Here are some of my favorites:
Hermione Granger, the brightest, bravest witch of her age.
Katniss Everdeen, a sister first, and always. One who’d volunteer her own life in order to protect the ones she loves.
Anne Shirley of Green Gables, who fought endlessly to educate herself and stand tall in the face of those who thought her a worthless orphan.
Elizabeth Bennet, who dared to choose her own future, instead of accepting what was forced upon her by the confines of society.
Matilda Wormwood, who chose books over everything, and never looked back.