Series: Shadowshaper (#1)
Author: Daniel José Older
Narrator: Anika Noni Rose
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Review cross-posted to Goodreads.
Wow. There are so many thoughts swirling around my head that I don’t even know where to start. You’ve been warned, this review will contain some spoilers.
First of all, if you have a chance to listen to Shadowshaper on audiobook, do it. This is one story that really comes alive with the narration.
Now I see why this book has been getting rave reviews, and for so many reasons. It’s set in Brooklyn, with a wealth of diverse characters–not just in race but in background, their stories, who they are, everything. Despite there being quite a lot of characters, none of them felt “flat” to me, either. They each have a story, even if we don’t quite know what it is. Sierra, the main character, is a teenager like any other. She likes to paint, maybe would be more interested in boys if they would treat her like a person, has fun with her friends, and is looking forward to summer vacation. She gets rather more than she asked for when this weird guy crashes a party she’s at, and she discovers her abuelo actually has a connection to him. Robbie, the new Haitan guy at school who she’s kind of had her eye on, also starts acting weird whenever the guy (who turns out to be dead, fyi) and the “Shadowshapers,” whoever they are, are brought up. From there, we (and Sierra) are immersed in a mystery regarding spirits and ancestors, missing people, a white anthropologist who’s been studying the Shadowshapers, and newfound powers to bring art to life.
Older also tackles some social issues head on–no hiding behind euphemisms for him. There’s police killing young black men, young women getting catcalled on the street, the conflict between Sierra and her aunt Rose regarding letting her hair go natural and dating someone with a darker skin color, the systematic destruction of heritages and claiming those heritages for oneself instead, the suspicion leveled at the only Latina in sight on a street full of white suburbanites . . . the list goes on and on. It’s great reading a book that basically says, “hey, this stuff exists, it’s real, and if real people have to deal with it, so do the characters.”
Besides all that, it really is a solid story. Sierra is a great main character, and I love her cadre of friends, too. The tension is well-placed and I was hooked from the first chapters, wanting to know who, exactly, the Shadowshapers were, how her abuelo was connected, where the heck Lucera had gone, and how Wick was involved–and how to stop him in time. The romance isn’t overdone, either, which I appreciate for a young adult novel, if nothing else for the realism (because as much as we all love swept-off-her-feet princess stories, real life that is not). I’m so glad this is only the first in a series, and will be looking for the next audio versions.