Book - 2015 | First edition.
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"Magnificent." -- Holly Black, New York Times Book Review Come to the crossroads, to the crossroads come Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears . . . Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on. Where the powers converge and become one With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one -- and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family's past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for herself and generations to come.Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a fantasy heroine and magic unlike any you've ever seen before, and marks the YA debut of a brilliant new storyteller.
Publisher: New York, NY : Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2015.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780545591614
Branch Call Number: Y Fic
Characteristics: 297 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

"Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra's near-comatose abuelo begins to say "No importa" over and over. And when the gra... Read More »

List - Akata Witch
SLPL_Teens Feb 13, 2018

What do you do when a corpse crashes the first party of the summer? Does anyone else notice that the neighborhood murals are moving… and fading? Is Sierra Santiago “losing it” or finding herself and her purpose?

Sierra Santiago learns the art of shadowshaping which allows her to communicate with the spirits through art, music, and stories. Can Sierra unravel the mystery and save the remaining shadowshapers, as well as herself, before it is too late?

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Jan 20, 2019


This is a tough one to review, because I'm a fan of "own voices" books (i.e., non-white/non-straight/non-cisgender authors writing non-white/non-cisgender/non-straight MCs) and narratives with supporting folklore (bonus points if it's actual folklore from somewhere in the world). I actually put off reviewing this book for a week because I was genuinely concerned that my feelings about this book might be an indication that I've got a bias against non-white MCs or authors. (constant vigilance!)

I really liked the premise of this book. Ancestral magic in an urban setting, art that's alive, and a unique setting. The biggest letdown was my utterly inability to connect with Sierra. She's got some fun moments of sassy independence that are almost a lampooning of typical damsel-in-distress tropes. But she never felt genuinely vulnerable or flawed, and so almost everything seemed superficial- her friendships, her concern, her handling of the Chosen One trope (which is another thing that distanced me from the story). She doesn't emotionally process anything, nor does that appear to affect her.

The environment was a large factor- I can only assume the author knows NYC intimately. If you know anything about Bed-Stuy (and I didn't- thanks, Wikipedia!) you'll probably be tickled at all the local references. But as someone who does not live in NYC and has no touchstone, I was lost with all the references. It just felt like a wedge, driving me from the narrative, instead of utilizing the environment as a plot device.

The ensemble cast was so much background noise- representation in name but not in fact, in that we didn't learn anything about anyone (except Robbie and his epic tattoos, shaggy dreads, wicked artistic talent, dance skills, and heart of gold). I can tell you two of the characters are lesbians, but I can't tell you how they move, what they care about, what they love and hate about knowing Sierra, etc. That sort of thing- and plenty of stories have characters-as-set-dressing, but with the lack of feeling connected to the MC, I was looking to her interactions with her friends to give me reasons to give a damn.

I did feel like the "you're too black" crap that Sierra's aunt was slinging came from a genuine place. I don't buy the interactions there, either, but it was nice to see that kind of subtle tearing down within a family dynamic (which I feel is realistic) and the chance for empowerment/self-affirmation it gave Sierra. Also, the sexism within her family (realistic to me because a) Latino cultures tend to be male-as-the-head and b) of course in a system of magic people will draw gender lines as division- even non-magic contemporary skills get these meaningless gender divisions applied).

This book has ZERO plot twists. None. Every assumption Sierra makes, every mystery inexplicably solved, every chance encounter- none of it is a red herring. And, to me as a reader, that's like the author telling me I'm not smart enough to figure anything out so they're not going to bother throwing me anything twisty. (I have this beef with TV shows, as well)
So basically, the villain is the villain with no surprises, and Sierra's pure assumption about this stranger's motives turn out to be totally true and no one is surprised.

arapahoeshirmeca Dec 28, 2018

Over a couple of days Sierra Santiago, teenage mural artist, learns about herself, a dangerous anthropologist and a secret society. All while discovering who her friends really are and what her family's heritage is really about.

IndyPL_KaseyP Nov 14, 2018

Sierra Santiago is everything! Strong, vulnerable, complex. Her relationships with her family and friends are the grounding force of this supernatural story. Older brings Latin American mystical forces to the forefront for an original take on the Urban Fantasy genre. He incorporates, intrigue, betrayal, paranoia, and social justice issues. It is also refreshing to see a lady of color be the girl discovering all kinds of magical powers, in a genre that has been begging for more diverse mirroring for a long time. Highly Recommend!

Ethnically diverse teens empowered to face their families legacies, fight evil, and create a better future.

spl_merley May 08, 2018

With its urban edge and vibrant characters this contemporary fantasy is packed with action, mystery, sass and a good does of wit.

ArapahoeLaura Jul 30, 2017

Dark and mysterious, this urban fantasy mixes modernity with cultural heritage seamlessly.

Jul 24, 2017

Vividly gorgeous and totally lit. Read it now.

Jun 09, 2017

I loved this! I couldn't put it down, can't wait to read the next one in the series.

forbesrachel Jun 02, 2017

Sierra Santiago has lived her whole life in Brooklyn surrounded by friends, family, and neighbours. She thought she knew who they were, and who she was, but when a corpse-like thing chases her, calling her name, things rapidly unravel. Turns out, her family has the ability to act as a conduit for spirits, to infuse the dead into art, thus bringing it to life. They, and others in her neighbourhood, warded off evil until something started hunting them. Sierra must not only discover who is doing so, but scramble to understand her own powers before she is next. As an urban Fantasy, Shadowshaper feels fresh because it's magic and voice is steeped in the values and traditions of culture that is different than the traditional white, western one. The importance of community, the power of art, and the societal pressures that people of colour feel shape the world that Sierra lives in. Through her, we see the pride she has in her heritage, but also the negative effects that a white dominant society has on her psyche. Her story is a coming of age story, but also one about learning to accept herself, and those in her family who did what they thought was best. While the ideas are to be praised, the execution of the story does fall a bit short. Characters sometimes feel like they're talking to thin air rather than listening to and conversing with one another, and there are times where something dramatic has happened, yet a page later, it is just life as usual. In some ways these are more realistic portrayals of teens, but it doesn't necessarily make for good storytelling. Fortunately, Sierra's development goes smoother. She is a young woman with her own agency, but she is also not afraid to ask for help, and seeing how her confidence in herself grows gives you a good feeling inside. Her relationship with Robbie, a fellow shadowshaper, helps her reach these new levels. For those seeking a quick urban Fantasy with a different coat of paint, hope into this world of spirit murals, and those who shape them.

May 08, 2017

Imaginative and original, with an entertaining, diverse cast of characters. I loved the idea of shadowshapers and I liked how authentic the story felt culturally. But it also felt rushed, a little confusing, and had a weak villain. Still, worth a read if you enjoy urban fantasy!

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JCLChrisK Mar 15, 2016

We are entwined. I drew power from the spirits and spirit workers and I returned it to them tenfold. The true source of shadowshaper magic is in that connection, community, Sierra. We are interdependent.

JCLChrisK Mar 15, 2016

Crazy. It was the same word María and Tía Rosa flung at Grandpa Lázaro. The same word anyone said when they didn't understand something. "Crazy" was a way to shut people up, disregard them entirely.

nydemo Jun 15, 2015

Does it go to the comment page?


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spl_merley May 08, 2018

Mysteries and danger begin to unfold as Sierra discovers secrets about her family and the tradition of the Shadowshaper. When danger closes in Sierra must work with Robbie, a quiet fellow artist, to discover her gift and the legacy of being able to channel spirits into art. As dark forces threaten her family, friends and the family tradition she is only just discovering, Sierra must learn quickly how to wield her new found powers to save them all. Diverse characters discovering their own sense of power and the value of family history and legacy make this a must read book.


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