Shadowshaper

By Daniel José Older

ShadowshaperThis is the third book from the bitchesgottaeat bookclub, where Samantha Irby recommends a book that she’ll be reading, with the idea that we could read it at the same time but never actually discuss it at all. I’d already read and loved the first, Carry On, and was surprised and delighted by the second, Everything, Everything. Even after a 2-for-2 record, I didn’t really want to read her third recommendation, Shadowshaper. There’s just not much that I can relate to with magically talented teen artists living in Brooklyn, quite frankly.

The protagonist, Sierra, is a high-school senior focused on painting a large mural on the side of an abandoned building in her neighborhood. She notices  other murals in the neighborhood fading unnaturally quickly, and then things get stranger from there. The writing seemed a bit uneven to me, which kept me from getting fully involved in the story, but the story itself is really unique and interesting.

A strong theme in Shadowshaper is immigrant culture, and the elements of one’s old country that one brings to one’s new country, in music, dance, food, and spirituality. Sierra’s family and most of her neighborhood is Puerto Rican, most of her friends are either Hispanic or African American, and her love interest is Haitian. There is a subtler theme, too, of misappropriation of cultures that aren’t one’s own. The book additionally asks questions about what kind of role academic study can play in understanding if it is necessarily on the outside, looking in. My favorite element of the story is how these themes are carried through in the supernatural elements, as well, but I can’t really elaborate without extensive spoilers.

Author Daniel José Older writes extremely visually, describing all the colors of the murals and the neighborhoods and the spirits themselves. As a reader, I get a bit bogged down in large descriptive paragraphs, but I kept thinking what a phenomenal movie this would make with animated murals traveling through the New York cityscape!

—Anna

Everything Everything

By Nicola Yoon

Everything_EverythingI would never have picked up this book except that one of my favorite blogs, bitches gotta eat, decided to start an online reading club, of sorts, and chose this as the first ‘assignment.’ Samantha was totally upfront about how this so-called ‘book club’ was basically the books she wants to read and she will post the titles and that’s about it – there will be no discussion, no question-and-answers, no nothing; we can just read the books and take whatever comfort we want that perhaps other people are also reading it. I didn’t quite believe her and I didn’t want to be left out of any subsequent blog posts, so I put a hold on the book and then forgot about it per usual.

True to her word, though, Samantha didn’t follow up on the book at all, and a month later simply wrote that now she would be reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I had actually just then finished reading Carry On, per Kinsey’s recommendation, and completely adored it, so when Everything Everything finally came in at the library, I had residual good feelings toward Samantha’s picks.

Everything Everything is narrated by 18-year-old Madeline, who was diagnosed with SCID as an infant and has lived in her hermetically-sealed house for her entire life. An attractive boy her age moves next door and her interest in him opens her to the rest of the world that she has been cut off from. Sounds terrible, right? I hate romantic coming-of-age stories and I hate rare disease stories, and the only thing that tempted me to even crack the cover is that the narrative creatively includes IMs, emails, diary entries, and illustrations, and I do appreciate multimedia storytelling.

You guys, maybe I’m turning into a big softy, but I absolutely loved it! Madeline is so smart and funny and personable that her voice really carries the novel. Olly, the boy next door, is interesting and nuanced, and I quickly started to care about his story, as well. Additionally, the premise, with this life cut off from all outside human contact, discusses what life actually means, and how different people all cope, either well or poorly, with different kinds of loss, and how to still build a life worth living, which is definitely something that I find personally relevant right now.

—Anna