Sierra Santiago is a Brooklyn teen, trying to have a normal life and hang with her artsy friends. But she discovers that in her family are Shadowshapers, manipulators of ancient spirits that utilize art as a conduit, for Sierra, this comes in the form of mural painting. With the help of a fellow artist, Robbie, Sierra is able to bring her murals to life but the Shadowshaper’s are in danger. Sierra’s grandfather shared the secret of Shadowshaping with an anthropologist, Dr. Wick, and he’s trying to gain the power of the Shadowshapers for himself.
Ava and I absolutely loved this book. It was cool, funny, creepy and interesting but she was slow to come around on it at first. Getting Ava interested in learning Spanish has been incredibly difficult, she has little interest in it and reminds me of myself as a child. I’d quiz her about the little Spanish phrases and words that would pop up in the story and she’d get annoyed. But it also became a great opportunity to have a discussion about language and culture. When she initially complained “why does there have to be Spanish in this?” I said, “because there are a lot of people in this world who speak Spanish and they have stories. Because people like me and you get to be the heroes in stories too.” That was the last complaint about the Spanish and one morning, after the babysitter was there the night before, she said that she wanted to know what happened so badly but the babysitter couldn’t pronounce the Spanish words properly and it sounded all wrong.
There were two chapters in the book that Ava complained about when they ended and I put the book down. She shot up in bed and said, “but nothing happened in that chapter!” I thought it was funny because they were very powerful chapters, but Ava is 9, so the focus of those chapters went over her head. One of them dealt with two teen girls dealing with body image issues the other with Sierra realizing she loved Robbie.
I normally read a chapter of Shadowshaper to Ava at bedtime, but last week Ava was home all week with the flu. One morning, when her sickness was at its worst and she was burning up, I asked her if I could get her anything to make her feel better and she pointed to the book. I spent an hour reading the final chapters and by the time I had finished the medicine had kicked in she was like her old self. It’s awful seeing your children sick and normally there isn’t anything you can do to help them, but it was like the story itself helped her get out of bed.
About halfway through the book, Ava said to me, “If I were you, I’d read Shadowshaper alone so I could find out what happen,” and I said, “I want to find out what happens together,” and she gave me a big hug as if to say thanks. There were so many chapters that ended that way, so much about this book that made me feel connected to my daughter and the culture we come from. I think this is one of the many, many reasons We Need Diverse Books. Understanding the importance of seeing myself represented in the literature I read didn’t happen until I discovered Junot Diaz about a decade ago, well into my 30’s. I want representation to be something my daughter doesn’t even have to think about. What a world that would be…
Here’s an interview with Daniel Jose Older and the Fanbros: