By Tqwana B.
5 out of 5 stars ★★★★★
Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.
Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.
Another one to add to my favorite reads of 2015!
As with Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older doesn’t spoon-feed or hold your hand in Shadowshaper. Everything is fast-paced and jumps right into the action. The world building is so intricately woven into the plot. Brooklyn is magical. A character in itself.
Sierra is such a teenager (she had me when she “Sir’ed” Robbie), which is a complement, wanting to party and hang out with her friends, who are wonderfully vivid and hilarious characters. Tee and Izzy need a book of their own. Even just a short story. Sierra, like most teenagers, is also a little apathetic, though curious, about this family lore. Until she can’t afford to be anymore. I can’t wait to see her grow into her gift.
But, pull back the layers on Shadowshaper and there’s so much there beyond just magic and animated paintings. Sierra has to deal with her grandfather’s sexist views on shadowshaping and Tia Rosa’s colorism, not realizing or accepting, rather, that she herself is “darker than the bottom of her foot.” Such a cathartic moment when Sierra shuts her down. Street harassment and neighborhood violence are part of her existence. The fading murals? Are they a Brooklyn fading under the weight of gentrification? Wick’s coveting and bastardizing shadowshaper magic is a clear reference to cultural appropriation and it’s lack of understanding and respect for historical context. You’ll have fun with Shadowshaper, but you’re also going to learn something.
Loved that this didn’t turn into a cheesy romance between Robbie and Sierra. The girl was about her business when she needed to be. Boys, even cute slight geeky shadowshaper boys, were secondary.
Sierra can save the world without the boy, but she likes the boy well enough anyway.