Daniel Jose Older
Scholastic, 2015 297 pgs.
Sierra is a normal teenager growing up in Brooklyn. Suddenly things begin to change in her neighborhood; old men are dying, faces in murals are crying, and her ill grandfather incessantly mumbles apologies that make no sense. Grandpa's buddy, Manny, encourages Sierra to continue with her artwork, constructing murals that flank her Brooklyn neighborhood. It is here that she befriends fellow artist, Robbie, and the two teenagers, through a mutual love of art and suspicion about the strange goings-on, develop a romantic relationship. Through Robbie Sierra discovers that she is a "Shadowshaper" with the ability to make her art come to life. It is an ancient gift handed down through her family. A greedy professor discovered this gift and decided to have the power for himself. This is why grandpa and his pals are dying; the evil professor is stealing their powers. The most powerful Shadowshaper goes by the name Lucera and this identity can also be inherited/stolen. The professor is eager to obtain the powers of Lucera. As the novel progresses the identity of the most recent Lucera is revealed, as is the next in line. To defeat the evil professor Sierra must get help from her friends, family, Robbie, and even a new librarian friend who assists her with research. She must battle monstrous shadow creatures and stop their master from destroying the world as we know it.
First time teen author, Older, offers a contemporary and hip fantasy sure to be popular with teenagers. Sierra is an interesting and relate-able protagonist. Her friends are diverse and developed. All the characters are humanly flawed, yet face their fears and get out of their comfort zones ready to fight evil. The plot moves quickly with plenty of twists and surprises to keep readers turning pages.The book itself is shorter than most fantasy novels, contains short chapters, and reads quickly, making this selection a great choice for reluctant readers. Even though the main character of the book is female, Shadowshaper is not "girlie" and will be enjoyed by boys willing to give it a chance. The magical elements are believable and seem realistic to the modern New York setting. Older has answered the call for diversity in books for for young people and presents a rainbow of characters residing in what is primarily a Latino neighborhood. The book climaxes at Coney Island, which seemed ironic to me. Ever since I went to this famous beach community in Brooklyn last June it feels like almost every book I read ends up in Coney Island. No matter, Brooklyn almost feels like its own character within the book and is important to the story. Shadowshaper is a stand alone novel, but Older could easily write more adventures for Sierra and her friends.