Book review: Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

Older, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. (Shadowshaper series, book 1.) Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780545591614. Ages 12+. P8Q9

Older ShadowshaperSierra is a Puerto Rican teen living in Brooklyn. When she encounters a zombie-like creature one night at a party, a new world opens up for her. Sierra’s family legacy is the ability to Shadowshape- to channel the spirits of the dead into art, which can then come to life. She was kept in the dark about this ability by her grandfather, who thought women either couldn’t or shouldn’t shadowshape. This novel is fast paced, beautifully written, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities in Brooklyn, with Spanish words and phrases used liberally. I loved reading about a bright, brave, strong, interesting heroine of color in a fantasy novel. Sierra has to make decisions about some important things- should she embrace her shadowshaper heritage, or try to be a normal teen? Should she confront her racist aunt and tell her that she is okay with her Puerto Rican skin, body shape and hair, and that the aunt’s opinion about Sierra’s dark skinned boyfriend isn’t welcome? Should she get more serious about her boyfriend even though he isn’t always reliable (translation- he seems to disappear and leaves Sierra alone in dangerous situations). Race and gender are crucial in this story, and while it is clear how oppression and discrimination has shaped the characters, there isn’t any self pity in them. Teens of color may identify with Sierra and her friends, and readers who are looking for something different in YA fantasy or urban literature will like this book. Review based on audiobook version.

May 2016 review by Carol Schramm.

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