ShadowShaper is a young adult urban fantasy novel by Daniel Jose Older, that centers around a young Afro-Latina girl named Sierra, her family and friends, and her Brooklyn community. When close family friends begin disappearing, Sierra is taken on a journey of knowledge about herself and her family’s history, while also being tasked with saving her community’s spiritual system from being taken over by a power-hungry anthropologist.
There are many more reasons to ready this wonderful story, but five characteristics of the book really stood out to me and made me love this story even more:
1) An Independent Heroine
Sierra was independent, strong-willed, and was able to overcome her fears to discover the truth. I also liked how she interrogated her own internalized oppression, by stopping to think about how she had internalized anti-blackness by describing her skin color as “coffee without enough milk.” Sierra was also very committed to just being herself and being comfortable in her own skin, which I think is such an important message for young readers of this book, especially girls and women of color.
2) Cute Guy Alert!
Sierra’s relationship with fellow artist Robbie was also very cute and real; he was such a cool nerd.
3) Addresses real issues
ShadowShaper does a really good job of addressing the gentrification of Brooklyn through the antagonist. Using him as a metaphor for White takeover and appropriation of not only our communities, but also culture and even spiritual practices, was genius.
4) Who needs white people?
The metaphors for gentrification juxtaposed with the diversity of Sierra’s friends was really telling; our communities are already inherently diverse, in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. We don’t need middle and upper class Whites to “diversify” our neighborhoods.