Batty About Shadowshaper Part One - by Daniel Older



If you missed it - we started by chatting about the cover of the book last week!

First Half discussion (pages 1-140)
Check out the other half of the discussion at The Brain Lair

Visit our Facebook page, comment here, or tweet us (@thebrainlair or @mariaselke with #BattyAboutBooks and/or #Shadowshaper) to join in the discussion!

I love the fact that we chose a book that is being praised for how it represents elements of American life that are so different from my own life story. Since we often talk about the need for diverse books to provide us both windows and mirrors, I’m going to frame at least some of my thoughts around those two ideas.

** For those reading my blog who aren’t familiar with this framework**  Many think of diversity in literature giving us a window into lives that are different from our own (helping build connections, empathy, and understanding) and mirrors into aspects of our own lives that help us see value in who we are.

I grew up in an overwhelmingly white suburb just a short drive outside of Philadelphia. I attended a religious private school that was also mostly white and entirely Protestant. If you look at those two elements, there is much in Shadowshaper so far that is one huge window for me.
I grew up “in the projects” in the  predominantly black south side of Chicago. I went to a public school that has since been taken over by the government. The housing project, run by the Chicago Housing Authority, does not exist anymore. In this way, Shadowshaper is a window for me too. The ease that Sierra walks alone around her area, did not exist.

** City life. I never had to worry about my family being in trouble with the cops. I never had to stress about safety. I do love how none of these things are made into a big “deal” in the story so far - they just are part of her understood environment.
Yeah, I do have brothers who were in and out of jail. Safety was job 1. You never went anywhere alone. You didn’t stay out late - unless you were prepared. I would have loved to go to a teen club. We really didn’t have places to go that may have kept some people out of trouble.

** Extended family living in close proximity - I love seeing how Sierra and her family get along. Having her godfather and aunt and family friends be so close is refreshing, too.

** Cultural heritage. Again - watching Sierra in her home and family group just feels natural. I feel like it’s MY job to figure out anything I don’t know. Did I have to look up a few words (like guayabera)? Yep. That is my job as the reader, though, not the author’s (or narrator’s) job to assume that my reality is “normal”. Believe me; I’m still in the early stages of learning this! Check out this video from the author on “Why we don’t italicize Spanish”

I loved seeing the words in Spanish. Used my Google Translator app many times. I liked that I could hold it over the words and get an idea of what was being said. I’m so happy that he kept it that way because I’m sure that is more natural. This is a real window. Love it!

** Discomfort with her appearance. Below I talk about how I DO identify with some of her appearance concerns (since I know almost all teen girls go through this stage), but some of her discomfort gave me a quick glimpse into a life that is nothing like my own. Sierra reminisces about chatting with a boy online and describing herself as “the color of coffee with not enough milk”. She stops and can’t even believe she said that about herself…. “not enough”.
I’ve been working to educate myself and LISTEN to people as they tell me what things bother them …. to listen to what they see as microaggressions… and to remember that we are all a product of our racist and sexist cultures. I catch myself making sexist remarks, even though I consider myself a feminist. This little section of her life stood out to me a glimpse into how we absorb the toxic attitudes of our world and reminds me that we all have to stay vigilant.
This would be a mirror for me. Even now, I lament about my hair, sometimes wishing it was straighter. Or that I could invest in one foundation instead of always mixing and having to find places that sell more than one darker shade.. Back when I wore pantyhose it always irked me that nude meant off-pink while coffee was meant for my bare skin. Even now, we have to go to a different part of town to get some hair products. I order most of them. Target has gained fame because it has one narrow section, about 2 ft wide and 4 ft tall, with “ethnic hair” products.

In spite of being in an environment is drastically different from my childhood home (her city) and in a cultural milieu quite different from my own (Latina), and her incredible artistic talent (I can’t even draw a stick figure); Sierra feels so familiar to me.

She’s fighting to feel comfortable in her own skin. She’s struggling with the balance between dressing to look nice for others and finding her own style. She’s listening to the advice of others (letting her friend braid her hair for her date) but she’s also really longing to just love herself the way she is.

She’s not boy crazy. Sierra wants to be her own person, and she’s not sure that any of the guys she knows really fit into that equation. I love and identify with her attitude from my own teen years.
I know so many teens will be able to see themselves here! I hope this book finds many readers!

Not quite sold on….
The importance of the magic. I think the concept of shadowshaping is very intriguing and quite unlike anything I’ve read before. Since I have read a decent amount of books that include some (or a lot) of magic, I do appreciate unusual takes on magic systems. What I’m not really getting yet is why this particular magic is so vital to Sierra’s world. I’m hoping that the second half of the book helps me understand why this is so important.

These are a few of my favorite things…

The domino players.
This group of men makes me laugh, too. I love that they respect Sierra’s art and want to make her murals a part of their landscape. I love how they taunt and jab at each other.

The creepy  
As we see more and more of the shadowshaper magic, I’m enjoying the overall creepy level of the darker variety. Any power can be corrupted - and the combined shadows are so scary! “Another mouth appeared along the creature’s shoulder; this one blubbered and gnashed…” (page 103)

The dialogue.
Oh yeah… this is probably my FAVORITE part of the style of this story so far. It can be really hard to capture the cadence of language. I’ve found myself stopping and re-reading a section aloud so I can really hear the characters. It doesn’t feel forced - it just feels like I can hear them.

I’m glad we chopped this book into just two parts. I’m ready to dive back in and find out what happens!


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