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.



Book Fridays: La ultima noche que pase contigo by Mayra Montero

It has been a while since a book angered me this much. I picked up this book on a whim on a recent library trip. I happened upon their collection of Spanish literature and this book caught my eye. I had no idea what I was in for. Because I will be quoting this book I will be writing this post in Spanish. For those interested, this book is racist and I don’t mean there is a racist character set straight by another character that speaks sense. This book has some of the most blatant, despicable depictions of casual racism. It is not something new, Latino culture is rife with racism and this book is a perfect example of it. Of note is the author’s disregard for the harmful and historically racist depiction of black people as monkeys. In the book the female protagonist has sex with a black man and upon returning to her stateroom her husband remarks that she “smells like a monkey”. That the author chose to describe her smell as such after sleeping with a black man should tell you everything you need to know.

I do not make it a habit to write about books that I rate very poorly. Mostly because I am very diligent in my selection process but also because most of the time not liking a book is subjective. This is not one such instance. I can’t keep silent about this book.


No suelo escribir sobre aquellos libros que no me han gustado pero es necesario hablar sobre este libro porque presenta un gran problema en nuestra cultura Latina. Como tal, la historia que leemos en este libro se trata de una pareja de crucero y la infidelidad que existe entre ambas partes. En si la historia es una sobre personas poco agradables pero eso no es lo que me dio asco.

Este libro expone muchas ideas racistas. Les explícito y lo voy a mostrar con ejemplos del texto.

“Tenia unos ojos achinados y perversos, un negro chino, una fisonomía diabólica, un cuerpo tenso y duro, puro nervio y puro músculo, un negro y renegro, me recorrió un escalofrío: estaba segura de que íbamos a zozobrar.”

Veamos el lenguaje, hombre negro es reducido a algo del diablo. La manera en la cual la autora se refiere a las personas de color negro es despectiva durante todo el libro. Aquí jamas encontramos a un personaje que le llame la atención al personaje racista. Por ello considero a la autora cómplice en ello.

Nuestra protagonista le teme al hombre negro pero este temor se convierte en excitación sexual y luego de seducirlo se encuentra enredada con el mismo hombre a quien mira despectivamente por su raza.

“…puso sus manos sobre mis muslos, sus manos que afuera parecían tan grandes y que ahora dentro del agua, se tornaban enormes, descomunales manos de patron de bote, de negro proscrito, de monstruo marino.”

Nuevamente el lenguaje, las palabras seleccionadas, en particular la palabra “monstruo” es violenta porque deshumaniza al patron del bote. Lo iguala a un animal. Esto es racista.

En otro instante la protagonista se refiere al patron del bote como un “animal de amor” que es un estereotipo común sobre los hombres negros.

Una vez su encuentro con el botero llega a su fin la protagonista regresa al barco donde su esposo (sin saber de donde ella venia) le reclama . La asociación entre las personas de color y los monos no es nueva. Históricamente es solo una de las muchas maneras a través de las cuales se le negaban derechos a estos ciudadanos. Que la autora escogiera esta frase para comentar sobre el olor de la protagonista luego de tener relaciones sexuales con un hombre negro ignora la historia dañina  de esta asociación y solo sirve para perpetuar estereotipos raciales.

Podria dar otros ejemplos pero creo que basta con los que he compartido aquí. Considero este texto extremadamente racista. Los cuerpos negros no son un fetiche pero así lo consideran los protagonistas. Otros problemas a discutir es la representación de violencia entre los hombres y las mujeres especialmente durante la intimidad.