Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Rarely have I read a YA fantasy novel with a contemporary setting that evokes such a sense of place. Brooklyn isn’t described so much by its physical landscape, but the way that the people interact with it, how they speak, and inhabit it. ‘Community’ might be a better word for it.
The story follows Sierra, a talented artist, that has to come to terms with a family legacy that no one wants to tell her about, and figuring out both the past that’s come back to haunt them, and how she fits into it for the future.
In the book, magic shaped by creative acts. Painting is the main form, but some people use magic, and her grandfather used stories to control spirits that aren’t so much fearsome but can be used for good or ill by the people that shape them.
And Sierra, she’s not always right, but she’s bold, and when she makes decisions, other people support her even if they don’t quite agree. The story might be about her, but it also wouldn’t be much of a story without the family and friends who are part of it.
Which brings me back to ‘community’. You get a sense of it from the way Sierra knows the domino players down the street, the multi-generations coming and going from her home. There’s a real sense that everyone watches out for one another, that blood or not, they’re family. That’s something I can relate to in my own upbringing.
And, you know, it was so good to read about a young woman who doesn’t hate how she looks, is opinionated, strong willed, and isn’t punished for it by her family or the circumstances of the story. Instead, she’s rewarded for sticking to what she thinks is right. That feels oddly subversive. It shouldn’t be, but it does.