Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

ShadowshaperShadowshaper
Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59161-4
Hardcover

To be sure, when a “random old white dude” fancies himself as THE anthropologist guru of urban spirituality systems, and thusly thrusts himself into the mythology of the shadowshapers; no good can come from it. Oddly, the offended fury of the spirits and entities enraged by his pompous presumptions pales in comparison to the wrath of our plucky Puerto Rican narrator.

Sierra is tougher-than-nails-kinder-than-a-kitten, cajoling the reader to dive in and hang with her and the vibrant, charismatic, tightly-knit crew that beautify their Brooklyn with gorgeous graffiti art and energetic, enchanting rap battles.

“She inhaled and the world caught its breath; exhaled
and a tidal wave of space emptied out around her.”

In the quest to find the archetypal spirit Lucera, Sierra’s stumbling blocks signify social issues of today. The answer to her original query, why shadowshapers aren’t well known, is sad but true: “people don’t see what they’re not looking for.” The Columbia librarian, coincidentally examining the very anthropologists that study the spirit worlds, reminds us of potential fallacies when making snap judgments. The horrendous havoc following Lucera’s disappearance is, disappointingly, confirmation that no one realized how crucial she was…..until she was gone.

Mr. Older artfully unravels urban spirituality lore in a mesmerizing mystery that feels fascinatingly fresh, crisply colorful and invigorating; while simultaneously seeming familiar, somewhat nostalgic. The dazzling dialogue amuses and delights. Initially, Shadowshapers can be gobbled up….an indulgent, pleasure-filled immersion. Soon, though, subtle layers leap into the reader, like spirits into shadowshapers’ murals, conveying hope, inspiration and a calming, centering of the soul.

“The true source of shadowshaper magic is that
connection, community…we are interdependent.”

I applaud absolutely every part of this courageous, bold book and recommend it to essentially every reader, middle-grade and beyond. Undoubtedly, I’ll be bouncing around the room for my Shadowshaper Book Talk when I encourage my beloved High School English classes to check this out. Tomes tailored to the open and hungry minds of our young adults build bridges and embolden the youth to join like-minded, Not-So-Much Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2015.

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