Saturday, December 5, 2015

Book Review: Shadowshaper

I grabbed this book from a display at my library and it was only later that I discovered that it was actually on my to-read list anyway. I like coincidences like that, especially now that it's close to the end of the year so I'm trying to get through as many 2015 books as I can. Although, I must confess that I'm not quite sure why this book made it onto my list in the first place.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summer is a time for fun, art, and hanging out for friends as far as Sierra, a teen in NYC is concerned. But things are a little different this summer, her grandfather is a silent boarder in the attic, there are strange rumors on the street too, and bizarrely enough the paintings in her neighborhood seem to be fading. Sierra doesn't think much of any of these things until she's drawn into a messy fight with supernatural powers, traditions, boys, and a chance to set several wrongs right.

I felt, defensive while reading this book. Long time readers have picked up that I started a new job earlier this year and one thing I’ve been hugely conscious of is how people at my work speak very slightly differently. When I talk to my parents or friends I talk fast with four syllable words and slang tripping out of my mouth right next to each other, I feel uncomfortable speaking like that at work and it’s made me pay closer attention to how my coworkers speak, how my friends chat, and how other adults (like my relatives or interviews I watch) talk. I have come to the conclusion that while my work isn’t overly formal it is in fact a tad more formal than how most adults speak with each other in the mid-Atlantic and under all of that scrutiny Older’s heavy, rolling use of slang stood out even more and left me uncomfortable. Is this mocking how young people talk? Is this what other people think of teenagers? I don’t believe it was meant like that at all, no one ever mocks or corrects how Sierra et all speak but, much like what I said in Check Please! the other day, I was left with a feeling of “I’m not from this subculture, is this accurate?” And then the moments that did feel familiar, like when Sierra yells at her relatives, oh my god I come from a very different family but I can’t imagine getting more than a few words into her rants without being shouted down. I couldn’t believe that the story had set up a culture of “respect your elders” that didn’t immediately enforce it, those moments that should have been familiar instead completely took me out of the book.

Moving beyond that, the story just didn’t sit right with me. In a way, the mysteries were solved too easily, everywhere Sierra looked she seemed to find a clue or an idea, the searching felt too easy even if the book was trying to convince me that this was hard. Part of this is from my new job, part of it is really specialized research so seeing Sierra go literally waltzing into a library and immediately finding a reference librarian who could help her and was willing to do it on her own time felt horribly unrealistic compared to my own life! I think the best way to sum up a lot of this book is as a “fantasy” and I’m not speaking about the magic. But to talk about the actual magic, I was a little bored by how the magical plot was resolved honestly. Lots of little details bugged me “you thought this was under your own power but you were actually chosen”, suddenly convincing friends to help even though logically they can’t really do anything, kids left to clean up an adults mess that even the trained adults couldn’t etc. Maybe this would have appeal to me at 16 but only maybe, it just feels a bit sloppy, not really interested in what Older puts out next.

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