by Daniel José Older
Strange things are happening in Brooklyn even before a re-animated corpse attacks Sierra Santiago at the inaugural party of the summer. The murals on local buildings are changing and fading, tears and anguished expressions moving across the faces of the people in the paintings. Sudden, urgent requests from her invalid grandfather to team up with a boy named Robbie lead Sierra to discover a world of ancient magic tied directly to their Caribbean heritage: shadowshaping. An artist initiated into the shadowshapers can create a work of art—drawing, story, song, mural—and channel spirits to inhabit the creation and do the creator’s will. Robbie inducts Sierra, who shows a natural talent, into the shadowshapers. With the aid of Nydia (an archivist from Columbia University), Manny the Domino King, Neville Spencer (Sierra’s resourceful godfather), and her friends, Sierra and Robbie use their talents to unravel the mystery of the disappearing murals, fight a power-hungry anthropologist, and restore strength to the shadowshapers. The realistic characters and grounding of this urban fantasy in Puerto Rican and Haitian culture stand out. There is dialogue peppered with Spanish and French, comfort food of plantains and chicken and rice, Robbie’s tattoos portraying his Taino heritage, and the Salsa-Thrash Metal band led by Sierra’s brother. Open discussions of race and racial politics among the characters are also notable in a book that affirms the power of owning and embracing one’s cultural heritage. (Ages 13 and older)
CCBC Choices 2016. © Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2016. Used with permission.