Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older


Young AdultFantasyShadowshaper by Daniel Jose OlderModern day New York City is pictured as glass and steel and science – not magic. But the neighborhoods are different. Sierra lives with her family in the ethnically mixed Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s summer break.She’s hanging out with her friends or is working on a dragon mural on the outside of an ugly, half finished building.

She starts talking with Robbie at the first party of the summer. She has seen him in school, but never talked with him. He’s also an artist. Sierra invites Robbie to paint on her building as well. She has noticed that another mural on the building has been fading oddly and she swear she saw it cry. Robbie painted that mural. He starts to tell her more when a strange shuffling man crashed the party and heads towards Sierra. She finally is able to escape the scary zombie-type man.

There have been secrets in Sierra’s home all her life. Her grandfather knew them but Sierra couldn’t get him to talk to her. Now he has been frozen with a stroke for a year. Sometimes he comes out and says cryptic messages. Robbie is the one who can help her a bit – he’s a shadowshaper. He can pull spirits into his artwork. Sierra’s abuelo had also been able to do that before his stroke, but she only now learns about it.

When her abuelo’s old friends start disappearing, then reappearing as pasty puppet type shuffling beings, Sierra realizes there is something even stranger going on. Now she has to figure out what. And the secrets the family hold will shape Sierra’s own future if she can learn the magic.

Shadowshaper features a teen aged Puerto Rican American girl who has a chance to learn her strengths and her fate. Daniel Jose Older uses Sierra’s ancestry, Robbie’s Haitian ancestry, her friend Bennie’s black African ancestry, and the other ethnicities around the Bed-Stuy neighborhood to weave the old folk lore magic. The magic in Shadowshaper harks back centuries and yet is still alive today in the living neighborhood.

Although it is a bit slow in the beginning, Shadowshaper picks up by the first third and pulls the reader through a mythical land that is frightening and lovely. Olden uses the folklore and the neighborhood to bring this young adult novel to life. The language is the language of the teenage streets – talk that abbreviates and can be cut into text messages.

“You shook up, girl. Talk to me.”
“Why don’t you go help your boy?”
“Don’t even start”
“Y’all seen Robbie or not?”
“Why you wanna know?”
“I gotta ask him some stuff.”

The chats between the teenagers add another touch of realism to Older’s book.

Shadowshaper is interesting urban fantasy with modern magic with its base in folklore magic. Older gives the reader a quick book that lets the reader see New York in a new, lively way.

Notice: Strong language

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