Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

22295304Title: Shadowshaper

Author: Daniel José Older

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Teen

Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books

Published: June 30, 2015

Page Amount: 304 pages

Blurb From Goodreads: 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.

Why Read: If you’ve noticed, I’ve recently hit a bit of a wall when it’s come to catching on reviewing the books that I’ve been reading. Part of me is sure that it’s from overdoing it over vacation back in August…. 22 books in 30 days? It’s enough to kill anyone’s reading urge and to be plummented into a terrible slump. Serious election stress could have only added to the lack of reading. Point taken. I haven’t been reading. Yesterday, I decided to sit myself away from a computer screen for the first time in months, and plop down with a good read. It had to be entrancing – something that sucked you in and refused to let go. Overall, I think I did well.

Review: I couldn’t tell you exactly what encouraged me to pick up Shadowshaper. As I was glancing through a recent list of Book Riot’s recommended autumn reads, Daniel Jose Older’s name jumped out at me. Had I read something by him before? Why was the name so familiar? After going through a list of his works, I have mysteriously concluded that I have not (in fact) read anything by him before. Nevertheless… the was something captivating about the the magical realism that he posited. The spastic setting of New York combined with a culture steeped deeply in spiritual mysticism away from its roots – how do you not want to read a book about that?

To be clear, this is a young adult book, so if reading about highschoolers small drama-filled lives and their poor decision-making isn’t your cup of tea – I would recommend not reading it. But too many people choose to not read young adult books because they feel it’s too “juvenile” for their tastes. One of the reasons I find this book so captivating is precisely because the characters are younger, and in a sense more malleable. Their views on cultural race divisions dissect with finding out “who they are” and blend together in a chacophany of sound and serious Bildungsroman vibes.

The main character Sierra Santiago is still finding out who is she is. Will she choose to define herself by her group of friends? Is graffiti and standing up against the machine (i.e. new building put up by bankers/trash) another way? How much does her Puerto Rican past mean to her? I don’t have the personal experience in feeling torn between my family’s past and the adapting/fitting into a new environment. I can’t say whether it’s written in a particularly believable way. However, it still struck a chord with me. How much do these kinds of feelings play a role in how we change our behaviour to “fit in”?

Maybe because I so badly needed a book to escape into, I found myself reading this on the train, while walking – until perhaps four hours later: the book was gone. Riveting? It certainly was. I found myself captivated by the small family community that Sierra fostered among her friends; the book gave me almost no time to wait around before I was again caught in the quickly-unfolding spiral of events. Perhaps each character was not laid open as fully I would have preferred, nonetheless it was still a lovely ride.

As for recommendations? I think it’s important to read books like this, tales that are fun and silly but that leave a remaining sense of something. What does immigration *do* to the people that undertake it? How will we change as a society when first- and second- generation communities change and grow in their new environments? My generation is still finding out, even scientists are still discovering what that precisely means. What does that mean for you as a casual reader? Perhaps that you should still be aiming to read books like this that  challenge your pre-existing perceptions, and leave room for some smiles on the side. Highly Recommended.

Rating: 4.8/5 Stars

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