Shadowshaper: outstanding supernatural YA contemporary fantasy
Daniel José Older's debut novel Shadowshaper is a thrilling supernatural YA novel with a diverse, likable cast of characters whose peril can only be averted through acceptance, true friendship and an embrace of their identity.
Ever since his stroke, Sierra's grandfather has been incoherent, until one day he seizes her wrist and embroils her in the mysterious peril that has come to her close-knit Puerto Rican Brooklyn community. He talks about Shadowshapers, though no one will tell Sierra what that means, but it seems to have something to do with the great graffiti murals that Sierra and others paint, covering over the failed gentrification products that have been arrogantly dumped in her neighborhood.
What are shadowshapers? How are they related to Sierra's heritage, and to the heritage of Robbie, a cute Haitian boy covered in tattoos depicting his varied ancestors? And, more importantly, who is hunting them, and did she really see her grandfather's dead friend, risen from the grave and stalking her?
Older's book is a first-rate example of how representation, diversity and themes of social justice and identity can be skilfully woven into a narrative -- not so that they disappear, but so that the story pivots on them in a way that is authentic, exciting, and ultimately satisfying.
There's so much to love here: Older skilfully threads his storyline around issues of class and gender, makes trenchant commentary on the anthropologist's claim to objective distance and claims of superior understanding of other cultures, and the indisputable and easy-to-miss fact that every person is the hero of her own story, even people whom society treats as unimportant or even as a liability.
But Shadowshaper is a novel, not a polemic. All of these elements emerge naturally from a contemporary supernatural horror story that is beautifully plotted, filled with likable and imperfect characters you can really root for. Sierra is on something very like a classic Hero's Journey, but bent around her unique identity and circumstances in a way that elevates the timeworn formula into something new and compelling.
Shadowshaper [Daniel Joeé Older/Arthur A Levine]
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