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Shadowshaper Hardcover – June 30, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Summer has just started, and Sierra plans to enjoy it, hanging out with her friends in their Brooklyn neighborhood and painting a mural at the local junklot. Then things start to get weird. While she is talking to fellow artist Robbie at the first party of the summer, a zombielike creature disrupts things, Robbie disappears, and she is left to discover that she lives in a world full of magic that she knows nothing about. As she slowly pieces together the mystery of her heritage, Sierra discovers her own powers of ancestral magic and battles the evil professor who is trying to steal them. Robbie is a clear love interest, but he isn't there to rescue Sierra. Sierra is a tough, confident, body-positive female protagonist of Puerto Rican descent, proud of her 'fro and curves. The fact that she and Robbie seem to be connecting romantically is portrayed as more of a happy coincidence than the culmination of a lifelong dream of romance. Dialogue is fast paced and authentic to Sierra's Brooklyn neighborhood, which is vividly described. Readers will find someone to whom they can relate in her diverse group of friends. VERDICT Excellent diverse genre fiction in an appealing package.—Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH
* "Sometimes funny and sometimes striking, Older's comfortable prose seamlessly blends English and Spanish. Warm, strong, vernacular, dynamic—a must." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "Excellent diverse genre fiction in an appealing package." -- School Library Journal, starred review
* "What makes Older’s story exceptional is the way Sierra belongs in her world, grounded in family, friends, and an awareness of both history and change." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "Smart writing with a powerful message that never overwhelms the terrific storytelling." -- Booklist, starred review
“The strength of Older's tale is in his meticulous attention to the details of the life of a brown-skinned, natural-haired Puerto Rican teenage girl. Older's storytelling is rich enough to warrant such treatment, because this is a world that will stay with readers long after the last page.” -- Los Angeles Times
“Shadowshaper’s Sierra Santiago is the type of character we’ve all hoped we could have in YA.” -- Bustle.com
“Infused with a plethora of imagination, Shadowshaper has an intriguing supernatural premise wrapped in rich cultural details. Older not only gives readers a diverse cast, but he stays true to their background, language and community, lending an authenticity to his work. The supernatural art and mythological elements are interestingly woven and add multiple layers to the story. If you’re a YA urban fantasy reader looking for something creative and different, try Shadowshaper on for size.” -- Romantic Times Book Review
"I love this book for the richness of its culture, the strength of the characters, the humor and the truth of its language. Sierra is the heroine we've been waiting for -- a pretty, brown-skinned Latina artist who is smart, strong, inventive, and unsure, all the while being heroic. Daniel José Older is one of my favorite new voices, and I can't wait to see what he (and Sierra) come up with next.” -- Anika Noni Rose, star of Dreamgirls and The Princess and the Frog
“In Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older has created a YA novel that is exciting, absorbing, funny, creepy, and above all, absolutely fresh. One of the best YAs I've read this year.” -- Delia Sherman, author of The Freedom Maze
"Nothing is what it seems in Daniel José Older's dazzlingly inventive reimagined Brooklyn, where shadows turn to wraiths and graffiti comes alive. Funny, frightening, and always surprising, Shadowshaper is a spellbinding delight for readers of all ages." -- Sarah McCarry, author of All Our Pretty Songs and About A Girl
Praise for Daniel José Older and Salsa Nocturna :
"It's funny and wise and keeps you turning pages and the prose is truly fresh. It's so rare to read something that doesn't sound like anything you've read before, and so invigorating." -- John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns
"In Older's stories, the dead are as much a part of life as the living. The language is playful and Older's love for storytelling comes through on every page." -- Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist, in <I>The Nation
"Simply put, Daniel José Older has one of the most refreshing voices in genre fiction today." -- Saladin Ahmed, author of Throne of the Crescent Moon
Top customer reviews
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There was a whole lot of action in this novel. It would have benefitted from a bit of slowing down and some more introspection. Of course, I think almost all books need more introspection in them. Having said that the pacing is excellent. The story is propelled forward at a furious pace, and I really resented when I had to stop reading. The imagery was also top shelf.
Character wise I think that this book was a bit ambitious. There is a very large cast of characters, all beautifully and realistically diverse, but the author didn't seem to have time to develop any of their character arcs. No one changes. I was most disappointed with Sierra's development because she starts out in such a strong place character wise. She is tough, funny, and both self-aware and self-confident. The sass factor is also high. There were a few flashes of vulnerability that hinted at Sierra's full complexity. I also loved that she pulls a Hermione and runs to the library to find out more at the first opportunity. Is this a magical realism element? Maybe I am misreading things
Her friends and family were colorful and vibrant. I especially liked her friend, Izzy, who is like this tiny little loudmouth with no filter. Sierra starts a semi-romantic/ potentially romantic/ I think they are together relationship with Robbie, another Shadowshaper. This is another area where I wish that more time has been taken. I could feel the chemistry between them and the relationship progressed, but it was never emotionally processed. In the end, it felt like a hookup that might be something more.
There is a whole lot of weirdness going on in this book. Paintings come to life, zombies, The White Man of Doom, etc. Sierra doesn't keep anything a secret. She pretty much tells the whole world, "Hey! Magic! I have it." And everyone just goes with it. No one asks her to prove it to them or worries that perhaps she is losing her mind. Don't get me wrong, I love her support group of friends and family, but no one turns a hair. Even the one character who decided not to help her doesn't refuse because he doesn't believe but because the situation to "too freaky" for her.
Shadowshaper felt like a Middle-Grade novel but with aspects of YA. Or I initially thought that it was MG and was surprised that it was YA. Sometimes expectations do that to us. I was a bit miffed at the ending. I felt as if there was a lot more than needed to be explored and that Sierra still had a lot of growing to do. The major plot was finished, but there seemed to be more to tell. Fortunately, there is a sequel.
Which I am going to be reading.
One of the best things about this book is its wonderful cast of characters. The protagonist, Sierra Santiago, is a strong, complex, and positive representation of a young woman of color. Besides dealing with supernatural stuff, she also deals with issues that every young woman of color has experienced, including not feeling "good enough" due to her natural hair and skin tone as well as colorism (discrimination based on the lightness or darkness of your skin) from her aunt. Before she figures out her shadowshaping powers, she uses her brain and her friends to help figure out the connection between past and present events. Once she does tap into her powers, she gradually becomes stronger until her Shadowshaping abilities are fully realized.
Other notable characters include her older brother Juan (a caring person in a salsa metal band), her fun and loyal gal pals Bennie, Tee, and Izzy, her respectful, loyal, artistically talented love interest Robbie, and Sierra's grandmother Mama Carmen. All these characters and then some were fun to read about because they bring Sierra's neighborhood and personal life to life.
Besides the characters, the ability to Shadowshape is really cool. Shadowshaping involves using the spirits of your departed ancestors and friends (which appear as shadows) and fusing them with a piece of artwork to bring the artwork to life, maintain a connection to your loved ones, and battle evil. Reading the chapters where Robbie trains Sierra in using her powers and the chapters where Sierra confronts the mastermind behind everything is thrilling. If you are a Harry Potter fan like myself and you liked the magic in those books, then you will be pleased with this.
In addition to the characters and the ability to shadowshape, the book is very culturally rich. Not only is this found in the characters and Sierra's neighborhood, but also in little things like the use of Spanish and English. It is also found in the socio-political issues that are discussed including colorism, gentrification, and cultural appropriation.
Overall, this was a fantastic book. I recommend it to anyone who loves urban fantasy and any young woman of color who wants to see themselves in a fantasy world.