Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older Book Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

Sierra Santiago was planning on a normal summer of hanging out with friends and making art. Specifically a dragon mural on an abandoned building that the city will be tearing down soon. However, with Sierra's abuelo nearly comatose upstairs and a weird guy creeping around the neighborhood, things are certainly not normal. Then Sierra begins to notice that the murals around the neighborhood are starting to fade. And then one of them starts to cry. Sierra soon learns about a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers who can connect with spirits using paintings, music and stories. Her grandfather is the key, but with him barely conscious, Sierra will have to find her answers somewhere else. With the help of her new friend Robbie, Sierra finds herself dodging a power-hungry madman while learning how to harness her own Shadowshaping abilities.

Have you ever read a book that came highly recommended and even though the book is dragging, you keep reading in hopes that it will redeem itself in the end and life up to the hype? That was Shadowshaper for me. So much had been made of this book, from the fantasy to the rich diversity and cultural influences. In the respect of diversity and culture, this book has it down. The language, the racist aunt who has problems with dark-skinned people even though they are brown too, the myths and stories from the Caribbean, and even the issues of gentrification and prejudices.

The problem lay within the plot. Despite seeing numerous demonstrations of shadowshaping it takes forever for her to "get it". This was frustrating in that there wasn't very much to get. Once the reader is made aware that drawings can be brought to life and there is a big baddie who wants to kill anyone else who can do this, the only other thing to learn is how Shadowshapers actually work the magic of it. There wasn't much of a mystery in the character of Robbie, although I think he was supposed to be mysterious. Sierra trusts him from the beginning, which means that the reader does too. Not that there isn't a reason to trust him. In fact, she trusts him so implicitally that when he tells her how to do the actual shadowshaping she doesn't question it for a second. He said it so it must be true.

There were the usual young adult romance tropes. Girl falls for boy ridiculously fast. Girl seems to be more focused on kissing boy than finding bad guys. Girl loves boy even though she barely knows anything about him. Because someone only needs to have one thing in common to develop a crush that turns serious in just a few days. Ugh.

Overall, I think this book's biggest issue is that despite the rich cultural aspects in the story, the characters were boring. Sierra is full of tenacity and talent and the author did a good job of making her feel like a real teenager, but she is so slow to catch on that I found her cloying. Robbie was supposed to be this mysterious artist, but once the mystery was revealed he was nothing more than a plot device. Beyond these two, the secondary characters were so flat that I cared very little about what happened to them.

My favorite moment of the book is when Sierra finally tells off her racist aunt in the epic way that many of us wish we could to those family members who are a little too judgmental. Don't get me wrong, Sierra has plenty of sass, but this was the only moment where I really liked her and desperately wanted more of that girl.

I would like to point out how amazing this book cover is though. The girl, the chalk colors, the juxtaposition of the city...perfect.