Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.
Romance Score: A+ Success
The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.
Feminist Score: A+ Success
There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.
Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.
Diversity Score: A+ Success
This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.
The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.
Awesome Factor: A+ Success
The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.
I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.
Also – THAT COVER.
Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)
This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.
“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”
Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”
“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.”
Is this worth a book hangover?
Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.
Fun Author Fact
Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.
Read These Next
This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.