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297 pages, Hardcover
First published June 30, 2015
"Who gets to study and who gets studied, and why? Who makes the decisions, you know?"Shadowshaper brings richer cadences to a familiar tune. Many aspects are familiar to readers of urban fantasy and young adult: a secret world of magic, a naive heroine who discovers her own unique powers, and burgeoning romance. However, Older describes a fuller, more vibrant city than the standard cookie-cutter urban fantasy fare: the mixing and clash of cultures, mutual distrust with interloping police, stark contrasts in race and socioeconomic status huddled side by side, and deepening tensions over gentrification. One of the central themes of the story is the line between respect for other cultures and appropriation.
"Who gets to study and who gets studied, and why? Who makes the decisions, you know?"In one of my favourite discussions of the issue, Sierra's friend decides to turn the tables:
"If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra's grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don't see why I can't write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: A Culturalpological Study."
"Once when she was chatting with some stupid boy online, she described herself as the color of coffee with not enough milk. [...] The worst part about it, the part she couldn’t let go of, was that the thought came from her. Not from one of the teachers or guidance counselors whose eyes said it again and again over sticky-sweet smiles. Not from some cop on Marcy Avenue or Tía Rosa. It came from somewhere deep inside her. And that meant that for all the times she’d shrugged off one of those slurs, some little tentacle of them still crawled its way toward her heart. Not enough milk. Not light enough. Morena. Negra. No matter what she did, that little voice came creeping back, persistent and unsatisfied.Racism isn't simply something Sierra experiences from her family; it's all around her, accosting her from the media, from her family, from the second looks she gets walking in the "gentrified" parts of town, from her own eyes when she looks in a mirror. And her journey towards self-acceptance is learning to push back against those who wish to mold her into their ideal, to see herself as enough. As she tells her aunt:
I don’t care about your stupid neighborhood gossip or your damn opinions about everyone around you and how dark they are or how kinky their hair is. You ever look in the mirror, Tia?"Shadowshaper is easily one of the most interesting and meaningful YA books I've read in years. If you're a fan of urban fantasy, young adult fiction, or simply books that embrace vibrant diversity, Shadowshaper is well worth a look.
You ever look at those old family albums Mom keeps around?” Sierra went on. “We ain’t white. And you shaming everyone and looking down your nose because you can’t even look in the mirror isn’t gonna change that. And neither is me marrying someone paler than me. And I’m glad. I love my hair. I love my skin.”