Imagining Possible Futures: Afrofuturism and Social Critique in Daniel José Older's Shadowshaper

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World Languages and Cultures
Daniel José Older's New York Times bestseller Shadowshaper (2015) centers on teenager Sierra Santiago's entrance into the shadowshaping community and her confrontation of the dangers that the Afro-syncretic tradition faces.1 Exploring an ancestral tradition or "spiritual magic"2 that is passed down from one generation to the next, Older's pairing of a young Afro-Latina protagonist alongside Afrofuturist themes serves as a catalyst for the social critiques inherent in the novel. More than offering its readers an entrance into the elusive world of shadowshaping, Shadowshaper also delves into the challenges that multicultural adolescents face in the modern world. While the protagonist's inner battles—from themes of body image to self-identifying as a multicultural teen—emerge as constants in the young adult (YA) novel, societal and communal issues, including gentrification and policy brutality, also represent major preoccupations in the text.3 The practice of shadowshaping—an Afro-Caribbean spiritual art form that connects "shadowshapers" to spirits through artistic expression that builds on multiple cosmologies including Santería and Candomblé—succeeds in reallocating power and advocacy to the Afro-Latinx Brooklyn community in the face of gentrification.4 The present essay explores how the representation of Afrofuturism and other alternative futurisms in Shadowshaper supports the presence of complex social critiques in the novel, ranging from gentrification and police brutality to body image and the colonization of knowledge. Connecting the novel's social commentary and Afrofuturist pulse situates the text as a unique Latinx coming-of-age narrative that overtly addresses the "struggle for visibility in youth literature" (Jiménez García, "Lens" 5) by writing in (instead of writing out) complex themes related to race, place, and identity development.
This accepted article is published as Myers, Megan Jeanette. "Imagining Possible Futures: Afrofuturism and Social Critique in Daniel José Older's Shadowshaper." Children's Literature, vol. 48, 2020, p. 105-123. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/chl.2020.0005. Posted with permission.