Book Fridays: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of  making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaperintroduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.  (from Amazon.com)

I really feel that in 2015 reading a book about a Puerto Rican female protagonist who kicks ass shouldn’t be a big deal. Except that it is. Older has given us a wonderful book full of awesome characters that speak to a lot of our current realities. This book addresses big issues casually without beating  you over the head with them but while still making a point and telling a complex, nuanced story.

Sierra Santiago discovers a secret about her family that was kept from her because of the rampant machismo in Latino culture. Suddenly she is thrown into a situation that she barely understands but must make sense of quickly if she is to survive. Sierra is smart and resourceful and even though the odds stacked against her she manages to save herself repeatedly. I really liked her personality. I especially enjoyed the scene where she hands Rosa’s ass to her and calls out her colorism. I love that Older brought this up because it’s something that needs to be discussed,doused in gasoline, and set on fire. Colorism is a scourge within our community. In my own family we are a mixed bunch. My family on my maternal grandfather’s side is Afrolatino and I’ve seen first hand the derisive commentary hurled their way because of their hair, skin, etc. I have met a Rosa before so I was happy to see Sierra set her straight.

Something else that Older wove into his story beautifully was the inclusion of a lesbian couple among Sierra’s group of friends. What I loved about this is that the characters were not defined by their sexuality, it was just another fact about them like hair color etc. It was part of their identity to be sure but it wasn’t what drove who they were if that makes sense. The fact that they were present means so much. Teens that read this book will see themselves in it and that is a wonderful thing.

As I was writing this I took a peek at the reviews on Goodreads and stumbled upon this shit nugget:  “And finally, while I love reading books that involve people of diverse backgrounds, I think this one was a bit heavy-handed. It’s like every few chapters I was reminded again what she looked like and how it made her feel.” WHAT?! I have no doubt that this reviewer is a Wick sympathizer. I absolutely adored the way in which Sierra’s hair was described as an “unbothered halo”, I loved that she loved herself, how she looked, who she was. Considering that this is YA Urban Fantasy about a female of color I think it’s only appropriate that she’s feeling herself on every damn page.

Anyway, I loved this book (obviously) and as  Puerto Rican who grew up reading about everybody BUT me I can’t help but feel a great sense of gratitude towards Older for penning this treasure of a story.

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