I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by A.G. Howard, April Genevieve Tucholke, Carrie Ryan, Cat Winters, Danielle Paige, Jay Kristoff, Jonathan Maberry, Kendare Blake, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, McCormick Templeman, Megan Shepherd, Nova Ren Suma, Stefan Bachmann
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Group on 18 August 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Paranormal Fantasy, Thriller/Suspense, Young Adult
Amazon・ Good Books・Book Depository
A host of the sharpest young adult authors come together in this collection of terrifying tales and psychological thrillers. Each author draws from a mix of literature, film, television, or even music to create something new and fresh and unsettling. Clever readers will love teasing out the references and can satisfy their curiosity at the end of each tale, where the inspiration is revealed. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror, to the supernatural, to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for anyone looking for an absolute thrill.
“For everyone who read Stephen King when they were way too young.”
Such a dedication is nothing if not perfect for one such as myself. I certainly doubt that I was the youngest reader to ever pick up a King novel for the first time, but I do remember having a distinct impression that I was taking on more than I could rightly handle when I read Carrie in one sitting at my local library in junior high.
Since that first dip into the macabre, I’ve discovered two things about myself:
I like Stephen King.
I like anthologies.
It is unsurprising, then, that these conclusions quickly led to a third realization:
I like Stephen King’s anthologies.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes and Four Past Midnight are two of the only works of his that I’ve read multiple times, because there’s something about the horror genre that inherently works well in the short story format. Beyond the simple fact that one has the chance to sample multiple characters and worlds in a single go (useful, if any are not to your liking), there’s a heightened dread to spending so little time with a given scenario. With only a handful of pages to work with, an author is able to dig into the spookier elements immediately and ignore such pesky complications as “backstory” and “buildup,” to forego traditional concerns over reader satisfaction and clear resolution and instead make something open-ended and only half-answered.
In any other genre, this would be a bad thing. In horror, however, it’s oftentimes more about what you are not given than what you are. We all know of the adage that states that “nothing is scarier,” and it’s an accurate one. Who hasn’t been let down by the inevitable reveal of the monster? Sometimes, it’s better to simply be given a fragmentary snapshot of a tale than an exhaustive, comprehensive study of it. Leave the truly terrifying to the imagination and the unknown.
Of course, bringing together multiple authors is a bit of a gamble. With a standalone author like King, you know what you’re getting from the first page to the last: if you like his first tableau, the chances are good that you will like the second, and the third. When you’re given a sampling of talent, however, your chances of maintaining a consistent level of quality all but vanish. It’s a risk, perhaps, but a fun one to take, because it gives everyone the opportunity to discover new writers and note their personal favorites of the bunch.
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys comes from April Genevieve Tucholke, who has brought together a roster of fourteen YA scribes (herself included) for the purpose of gathering us around the metaphorical campfire and telling us their best ghost stories. The result is about what you’d expect: an uneven but consistently entertaining trip through the joint imagination. You will undoubtedly have your preferences for particular segments over others, but none strike me as completely unnecessary or worthless (well, bar one). It’s just a matter of sifting through the mediocre to find the best, and that is a chore that isn’t nearly as unpleasant as it sounds.
Now, I’d like to point out a few general observations:
Firstly, there is the matter of inspiration. Those guidelines that were or were not imposed upon the contributors remain unexplained within the book itself, but it seems as though each creator was required/encouraged to base his or her story upon one or more existing works, be they horror films, older writings, or otherwise. Each piece ends with a note indicating the media utilized, which makes it easy for one to make something of a game of guessing the muses in question — particularly when they involve a movie. Doing so correctly is oftentimes quite easy if you have any kind of knowledge of Hollywood, and this is indicative, I think, of the collection’s biggest flaw.
Doing any sort of retelling, you see, is dangerous, because a storyteller is left with a very thin line to balance their creativity upon. If the end product is too different from the source material, the very notion of it being a reworking of something pre-existent essentially becomes meaningless, because we as fans of the original story (presumably) want some similarities to remain. We want to make connections, draw parallels, make clear compare/contrast relationships. Yet if the end product is too like the source material, the problem instead becomes one of redundancy: if this “new” version is at its core the same, what is the point of having it at all?
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys strikes a strange compromise between these two extremes. Some of the stories are really quite novel in their execution, which is helped by the fact that they are based upon works that aren’t particularly well-known by the public: foreign pictures, older short stories, and so on. Others, however, are almost painfully easy to accurately predict, because their inspiration(s) have already been reworked and redone an untold number of times prior. Horror has lost much of its luster these days, particularly in cinema, because it’s become the rule rather than the exception to rehash the same tropes, situations, and mythologies instead of trying anything new. This anthology reflects that: while some of these works have interesting ideas working for them, there are a few too many clichés in the total product for my liking, and that gives off a general impression of, well, repetition. “Been there, done that.” If you’ve seen your fair share of thrillers, you won’t be surprised by much here.
Secondly, there is the matter of representation. Yes, a slight lack of originality is disappointing. Do you know what isn’t disappointing? A consistent, diverse female presence. Of the fourteen writers featured, eleven of them are women. Of the fourteen stories, eleven of them feature female leads. And because of the sheer variety of approaches to the general horror theme, all of these leads are given different active, integral roles to play. Some stereotypes are admittedly involved with the secondary characters, alas, but it’s nonetheless refreshing to see such a large cast of different women be given opportunities that go beyond being the love interest, catalyzing victim, and/or motherly caregiver.
Thirdly, there is the matter of tone. This is something of an inherent vice to the anthology format, but it’s worth mentioning regardless. Despite the title, not everything in this book is meant to frighten you. Amidst some chilling scenes are bits that feel more appropriate for other genres altogether, and its a bit odd to jump from something spectacularly macabre to something decidedly not within a page or two. Yet, given that the source material ranges from slasher flicks to Nirvana tunes, this isn’t surprising. If nothing else, the contrasts keep the reading interesting, as you’re never quite sure what the next tale will hold or what response it may invoke as a result.
And, no, it’s not as though Stephen King doesn’t dabble in the occasional (okay, frequent) bizarre tangent in his own works, so I suppose I don’t have much right to complain. (I’m looking at you, “Rainy Season.”)
With that (admittedly overlong) summary out of the way, let’s take a look at the individual pieces of this puzzle:
“The Birds of Azalea Street” • Nova Ren Suma • 4/5
“Teenage girls know more than we’re given credit for. We sense danger even when everyone’s telling us it’s fine, he’s a perfectly nice man, an upstanding member of our community, have you tasted his sugar-cream pie?”
From the author of Imaginary Girls and The Walls Around Uscomes a fantasy/horror hybrid that wastes no time in establishing the rather mature style of the anthology as a whole. Tasha lives next door to a man well-liked by the parents of the neighborhood, yet viewed with decidedly less kindness by the younger generations on the block. He has always lived alone, but comes home one night with an unfamiliar woman…
Suma’s writing is as lovely as always. Her subject matter is far too realistic to act as pure escapism, but the more elaborate elements that she includes later do not feel out of place or forced. Rather, they emphasize the piece’s focus on female companionship and support. Not particularly frightening, but certainly unnerving.
“In the Forest Dark and Deep” • Carrie Ryan • 3.5/5
“They wanted the safe answer. The one that allowed them to fall asleep to the promise of dreams. The one that allowed them to forget about the white rabbit the size of a man and his clearing in the forest.”
From the author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series comes a sort of Alice in Wonderland-meets-Hannibal mashup that mixes the former’s iconic imagery with the latter’s gory sense of artistry. Young Cassidy discovers a clearing in the woods that she decides to declare her own, secret spot. Until she meets the March Hare, who is eager to take part in her tea parties…
Lewis Carroll’s book has been done to death by this point, but Ryan manages to make the concepts (somewhat) fresh again, and decidedly spooky in the process. The twist at the end is actually surprising, though I’m not sure if I actually like it or not. It’s unexpected, but also feels abrupt and somewhat silly.
“Emmeline” • Cat Winters • 4/5
“This stranger in my broken bedroom, with his ethereal skin and striking eyes, cut a handsome figure in the moonlight. Handsome enough for motion pictures.”
From the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds and The Uninvited comes a sad little piece that is more a war drama than fright fest. It is amidst World War II that Emmeline finds herself alone in the rubble of what was once her room. That is, until a kindly American soldier comes to explore…
It’s easy enough to guess the reveal, but that doesn’t take away from the bittersweet nature of the moment, the charming characters, or the delicate romantics of the writing. Nothing genuinely scary, but the sheer likability of the concept makes it work, and the nature of the aforementioned reveal prevents it from feeling out of place.
“Verse Chorus Verse” • Leigh Bardugo • 4.5/5
“But what Louise didn’t understand, what these women never understood, was that if Jaycee didn’t get in front of this story, then the press would just make something up and it wouldn’t be pretty.”
From the author of the Grisha trilogy comes a very King-esque bit on washed-up singers and the dangers of fame. Jaycee is the country’s biggest thing in music, but is now in need of a comeback after a car crash and consequent stint in rehab. Things are looking up, but the recovery center that Jaycee was booked at isn’t quite what it seems…
The premise in general is a very clichéd one: rebellious teenage idol, controlling mother, the pressures of the media. The use of teenspeak makes it seem as though the author is trying a little too hard to be “in” with current youth culture as well. Despite all of that, however, this one actually ended up being one of my favorites in the bunch, as the supernatural elements that come into play are very King-esque: surreal, sort of cheesy, not entirely explained, and uncomfortable. The last few pages make up for the shortcomings of the first.
“Hide-and-Seek” • Megan Shepherd • 3/5
“Beware a man who comes in a black coat with a bird on his shoulder. If you see him, it means you are already dead.”
From the author of the Madman’s Daughter and Cage trilogies comes another tale that’s more fantasy than horror. Annie has died, but has been given a chance by Death’s messenger to live again should she win his game. Death, however, is not a fair player…
The concept is an interesting one, to be sure, but the execution is too rushed for my liking. Because the entire plot is crammed into so brief a space, the ideas at work aren’t given the opportunity to really make good on their potential. Better, I think, for a full novel, rather than a short story.
“The Dark, Scary Parts and All” • Danielle Paige • 1.5/5
“Daniel Thorne had an origin story. The beyond-tragic kind that could either have landed him in rehab or made him a superhero. Despite the fact that — or maybe because both his parents were taken from him at a young age — he was on top in our school.”
From the author of Dorothy Must Die comes something resembling your typical YA paranormal romance. Marnie is not a particularly popular girl at her school, but things begin to turn around when she catches the eye of the town’s resident charmer and influential bad boy…
Look at that quote. Look at that plot summary. Yes, it’s just about as close as you will get to a Twilight copycat in this collection. Easily the weakest piece of the set, it’s readable in a “so bad, it’s good” sort of way, but is otherwise rife with all of the shortcomings that have plagued the related genre since vampires experienced their resurgence of sudden popularity some years back. Marnie “isn’t like other girls” because she (*gasp*) likes to read, and is shocked when the mysterious Damian suddenly takes interest in (*double gasp*) plain ol’ her. It’s silly, trite, and the end is far too over-the-top to compensate.
“The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh” • April Genevieve Tucholke • 3/5
“It took strength to be quiet. It took strength to be kind. It took strength to let other people’s cruelty bounce right off of you.”
From the anthology’s curator herself and author of Between the Spark and the Burn comes a mishmash of recognizable horror tropes regarding guilt and implication. Theo, his girlfiend, his sister and her boyfriend are driving home from a night on the town, celebrating their impending graduation and the optimistic start of the rest of their lives. And then a girl steps in front of the car’s path…
Of all the stories in this collection, this one has the most obvious influences from prior pop culture. This isn’t a particularly good thing, however, as it creates a very by-the-numbers plot that is mostly populated by irritating characters that you really don’t sympathize with at all. The horror elements are there, but they are such well-worn ones that their impact is minimal at best.
“Fat Girl with a Knife” • Jonathan Maberry • 4.5/5
“She had a pretty name but she knew she wasn’t pretty.”
From the author of the Rot & Ruin series comes — surprise, surprise — a slightly different take on the zombie genre. Dahlia is in high school and unabashedly fat, having learned to deal with the routine mockery that comes her way with cool, calculated revenge. This sort of planning proves to come in handy when, without warning, a classmate stumbles into the restroom one Friday with a nasty bite…
Despite my lack of interest in zombies, Maberry manages to capture the imagination by limiting the idea to an individual’s initial experience with them and nothing more, making for a surprisingly intimate and emotional tableau. His writing is gorgeous, and his frank examination of fat-shaming and body positivity is fantastic and very important.
“Sleepless” • Jay Kristoff • 3.5/5
“‘They don’t love you Justin,’ she says. ‘Nobody loves you like I do. A boy’s best friend is his momma.'”
From the author of the Lotus War trilogy comes a disturbing boy-meets-girl story in the digital age. Justin lives with his mother, but seeks to escape her endless demands and religious fervor with his online sweetheart “2muchc0ff33.” He only hopes that she, unlike his previous girlfriends, truly is the one…
Though this pastiche has plenty of familiar elements, the author throws out so many twists that it’s impossible to fully grasp the truth of the characters until the last few pages. The power of the written word to obscure through generalization and reader assumption is in full effect here, and it’s very cleverly handled. Disturbing.
“M” • Stefan Bachmann • 3.5/5
“M is for Misha, who sits in the dark…”
From the author of The Peculiar comes a historical drama and murder mystery. Misha is blind and confines herself from the rest of the household, but must venture out of her comfort zone when she unwittingly stumbles upon a crime as it is being committed…
Not exactly frightening, but lavishly written and smartly effective in its usage of a blind protagonist. The end is somewhat abrupt, but feels satisfying enough despite it.
“The Girl Without a Face” • Marie Lu • 2.5/5
“What was wrong with him? Why was he being punished like this?”
From the author of the Legend trilogy comes a very straightforward ghost story. Richard is attempting a new start with his influential family after an incident at his old school. But the closet in his room won’t open, and an ethereal girl seems to be following him…
It utilizes just about every cliché in the horror filmmaker’s toolkit, but Lu’s creation does strike chords regarding vital real-world subjects of rape culture. Fun in a “B movie” sort of way, with an unpleasant bite.
“A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow” • McCormick Templeman • 4/5
“Sins of a faraway people had sickened the earth, changing it. And now there were whispers of something coming, something catastrophic sweeping ever closer.”
From the author of The Little Woods comes a bit of dystopian magic in place of your typical thrills. In an unnamed land that has fallen into desperation due to a disease that kills only women, a girl named Nara sets off to find a cure. But others, desperate for one such as her to sell and use for their own ends, are tracking her…
More of a fantasy than a horror tale, Templeman’s work nonetheless has its moments of blood and fright. She manages to create an entire world that is thoroughly realized and satisfying to leave despite the briefness of her tale, and the language’s poetry captures the snowy landscape’s wonder beautifully.
“Stitches” • A.G. Howard • 4/5
“I’d always liked the idea of people giving up their parts to make a new person who could outshine them.”
From the author of the Splintered series comes another King-esque piece on family and dismemberment. Sage and her siblings live in poverty with their abusive father, having lost their mother in an accident. A day in prison sees their surviving parent returning home with a contract from a reclusive doctor: one that promises to free them of their troubles forever…
Strange and perhaps a little too fantastical at the end, the author yet manages to fabricate an undeniable curiosity of a yarn that mixes real-world demons with fictional excesses believably. Not truly scary, but it will leave you queasy.
“On the I-5” • Kendare Blake • 3.5/5
“She isn’t exactly hungry, but she’s not unhungry either. As if wanting something as badly as she wants it has made her start to want everything, a little bit.”
From the author of the Anna duology comes a revenge tale against predatory men. EmmaRae sits alone at a truck stop, young and pretending to be something she isn’t. There’s a girl out back in the dumpster, you see, and EmmaRae needs to get her out…
An unexpected take on a recognizable theme, this one’s biggest flaw is its placement in the collection: as the last story, its simpler concept and brief nature end the book on a rather anticlimactic note, and its theme is a bit too reminiscent of Nova Ren Suma’s opening chapter to be as surprising as it otherwise could have been.