I just put down one of the most creative books whose pages my eyes have ever had the pleasure of reading through. Usually when this happens I sit back, close my eyes and marinate on the magic of whatever the story is, often with an elated “wow”, if the book so does the justice worthy of it. The “wow” is definitely still there, only this time I feel compelled to do a little more. I feel that while the “Spirit” of this novel is still swimming around in my mind, I should go ahead and speak on it, just a little bit.
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older is a supernaturally painted mural of culture and tradition compacted between two covers. The weight and depth of the cultural eccentricity expressed in this novel is enough to give anyone reading a palatable taste of urban life for black and brown people in Brooklyn, and an intimate understanding of the the power of identity, through Puerto Rican, Taino, and Dominican Republican heritage. The novel follows Sierra Santiago, a teenage artist, and her friends as she plans to spend the summer hanging and painting a beautiful mural in an otherwise nondescript junk lot. Her simple vacation quickly transforms into a journey when she is attacked by an undead man, and notices that the fading murals around the city are crying. She finds herself with a dark skinned boy named Robbie, at the recommendation of her stroke ridden abuelo with whom she begins to explore the magic of Shadowshaping.
I really don’t want to give much away, because that is the most fun of this novel- the exploration of an ethnic traditional legacy, but when I finally found the time to really dig into this book, it was difficult to put down. D.J. Older has a magical way of really capturing the air of the New York streets with diverse characters of multiple backgrounds living within their element. At the same time, while it isn’t the focus of the book, he hits on racial tensions as Sierra learns to embrace her identity and cultural background in a way so powerful that it is bound to tug tears from your eyes.
If you are a fan of the supernatural and beautiful, imaginative writing, I highly, highly recommend that you turn off the TV or put down that game controller for just a while and take the time to immerse yourself in this world. You’ll be amazed when you find yourself on a bustling street outside a flatbush corner store, or standing amid the nature of Prospect Park with a spiritual level of beauty encumbering you. Pick up this book now. You can find it at Barnes N Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon, Playbooks, or even Audible. You will not be disappointed.
SN: After reading the book, the cover is that much more beautiful.
I'm the whisper you hear as you enter the trance
When the lanterns go dead
I'll light the path ahead
From where lonely women go to dance"