Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Sometimes I read a book and find myself realizing, "This was not made for me." And that is 100% okay! I feel the same way about TV shows and movies. I'm glad that there are things being made that do not appeal to me, but speak to others. Honestly, the world needs a lot more of that. So with that in mind, this book was not made for me, but I'm really glad it exists.


What this book does best is show diversity in a realistic and non-pandery/gimmicky way. It portrays Brooklyn as a diverse place filled with different cultures, races, and voices. I've never really read something that brought the city to life the way this book did. It was a living breathing place. The cast of characters is also diverse and youthful. Real issues, like police violence and gentrification, pop up in their conversations, and they speak in slang that felt authentic (I am in no way cool enough to vouch whether this is accurate or not). I was also amused that the villain was basically cultural appropriation personified. Nice touch. I really love that I now have another go-to book to press into people's hands that portrays a non-white youth experience.


So then why did I not love this book? Well, simply put it was written for teens and the seams showed too much for me. The characters lacked depth, and reacted in pretty standard teen lit trope ways (like insta-love and the plot being driven by a lack of communication). The pacing and plot were uneven, and the scenes felt choppy and stitched together. The magic system felt tacked on and poorly realized. Etcetera. Now here's the thing: these aren't particularly damning traits for the teen genre. But I'm not a teenager anymore, so they did impact my enjoyment. Like I said up top: this was not made for me, and I get that.


So here's the thing, I look forward to recommending this book to people. I'm glad it's gotten some attention, and a sequel is coming out. If they made a TV show or movie I'd be totally on board to see that, because this book was visually striking and I'd love to see it in a visual medium. But I won't be reading more in this series. I do think Older has done more than enough in this book to warrant checking out his adult works, and I will be looking into that.


Bottom line: If you're looking for a diverse teen read that puts Brooklyn and other cultures on center stage pick this book up right away. If you want a well crafted and sophisticated fantasy this one may disappoint.