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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
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Top customer reviews
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.
I’ve thought a lot about how Older made this work, even for me, a non-fantasy reader, a white girl, and I think it comes down to two important elements: the use of setting and the vivid characterizations. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn become characters in this story. A big reason I was drawn into this book is because it was set in Brooklyn. Everything that happens is grounded in place, full of descriptions, from the subways, the streets, to the guys that holla at you when you’re just trying to walk home—all of that was just so real to me. I loved that the magical element of the story lives inside the murals of Brooklyn—it felt real to me, having seen living examples of just how magical street art can really be. While Brooklyn can be a dangerous place (particularly when you got angry, terrifying spirit things wandering around out for blood), it’s also undoubtably home to these characters.
Sierra and her friends were beautifully characterized. Older spends just enough time in description and dialogue so that by the end of the story, I’m attached. I want these kids to be my friends; I want to wander around Brooklyn with them. I got especially attached to Sierra, this beautifully unique girl who, for all her sass, still has some confidence building to do throughout the events of the story. I love that Older deals honestly with the effects of race on a young girl’s self-perception, and the way he complicates it. Sierra internalizes the racism that exists in the outside world, but she’s even more upset at the ways she puts those ideas back on herself:
It came from somewhere deep inside her. And that meant that for all the times she’d shrugged off one of those slurs, some little tentacle of them still crawled its way toward her heart. Not enough milk. Not light enough. Morena. Negra. No matter what she did, that little voice came creeping back, persistent and unsatisfied. Not enough.
This brief passage broke my heart. For me it was a window into a specific reality that I haven’t experienced, but at the same time, I think we have all felt not enough in one way or another, particularly those of us with female bodies. As much as it broke my heart, I was grateful to be given this window into someone else’s mind. By the time I read this passage, I was already so invested in Sierra’s journey; I wanted to see her filled up with the power that lives within her, filled up with self-confidence and self-love.
Ultimately, Shadowshaper is about acceptance: learning to love yourself, love your history, and claim your destiny without fear or shame. It’s a beautifully written, fast-paced story that will keep you thinking—and leave you with a serious case of book hangover.