(Book Review) Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

By Katy Goodwin-Bates

slasherThere’s one thing that holds together the stories of Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke, and that’s a level of sickness which I can’t recall in even the most disturbing books I’ve read. I read this immediately after my Point Horror binge-read, which acclimatized me to unconvincing psychopaths and silly storylines; Slasher Girls provided me with a particularly rude awakening. Having read this collection, I think I would experience a genuine level of fear if I found myself face-to-face with any of the writers whose work appears here, as I would be fairly sure that they were deciding how to murder me in the most horrific way possible.

She was looking at me when the car hit her, straight at me, eyes round and wide behind the square, black, nerd-cool frames. Her body hit the windshield,  thud, brakes, screaming, yellow hair fanning out like the sinking summer sun. (The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh)

Some of the USA’s top YA writers are represented here, with both Six of Crows author Leigh Bardugo’s Verse-Chorus-Verse and Illuminae co-scribe Jay Kristoff’s Sleepless displaying a misleading level of vacuousness before becoming something quite horrific. I’m sure Kristoff is a really nice guy but repeated exposure to his brilliant but deeply disturbing writing means he could well become my own personal bogeyman. Elsewhere, both Tucholke and Danielle Paige borrow features of their full-length fiction in their horror-infused stories, with the former borrowing from urban legend to create a creepy love triangle that echoes her excellent novel, Wink Poppy Midnight. Paige’s The Dark, Scary Parts and All utilizes an angry-girl narrator who will remind readers of Dorothy Must Die of that series’ Amy Gumm.

There’s an appealing mix of historical and contemporary stories here, with a ghostly World War I tale in the form of Cat Winters’ Emmeline, and McCormick Templeman creating a fantastical and spooky landscape in The Girl Who Dreamed of Snow. I particularly enjoyed Emmeline, with its seductive but disturbed heroine and evocative use of a familiar historical setting. There’s an effective blend of magical realism and topical horror in the modern-set stories too, with a couple of writers evoking narratives of sexual violence to unsettle the reader. Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is bookended by disturbing tales of pedophilia, beginning with a predatory neighbor in Nova Ren Suma’s The Birds of Azalea Street and concluding with the avenging angel of Kendare Blake’s On the I-5,  while Marie Lu’s The Girl Without a Face is a tale of supernatural revenge which creates feelings of horror and bloodthirstiness in equal measure.

Dying wasn’t so bad, not really.
Not when you could go out like this, on a summer’s evening with the fireflies winking in the trees. She always thought dying would be a scream into a void, a thrashing, a searing. Not this slow and sleepy drip. (Hide-And-Seek)

Inevitably in a collection such as this, some narratives will stand out ahead of others, and I was most engaged by the stories by writers with whose work I was previously unfamiliar. Megan Shepherd’s Hide-And-Seek is a superbly disturbing tale of a teen murder victim with twenty-four hours to evade death. Stitches by A.G. Howard is similarly excellent, with a story of dubious deals and amateur limb transplants which had me flinching throughout.

For me, the best of the collection is Carrie Ryan’s In the Forest Dark and Deep, which updates Alice in Wonderland to create a truly chilling tale of childhood corrupted. Its main character, Cassidy, stumbles upon a tea party in the woods as a child, which seems fun but is actually a trap set by a sociopathic, murderous March Hare. The outcome of this less-than-delightful social event is the most disturbing of the anthology, taking as it does a beloved childhood story (albeit one with plenty of dark content to be mined) and twisting it violently. What Ryan does particularly well is to complicate the relationship between innocent and villain, adding a layer of complicity that makes the story deeply morally ambiguous.

As Ryan utilises Lewis Carroll’s classic, each story takes another work of fiction as its inspiration, sometimes to excellent effect. Ryan’s source material is obvious, but there is some fun to be had in trying to guess the inspiration for the other stories, with the answers only to be found at the end of each one. The references range from Hitchcock movies and Nirvana songs to Victorian horror staples and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which gives some sense of the diverse range of ideas on offer in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys. Having read a couple of other YA short story collections, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety present in the subject matter here; other themed anthologies can become repetitive, but Slasher Girls has no such problem. Every story scared the life out of me in a wholly different way.

I wouldn’t ordinarily seek out scary stories; possessed as I am of a slightly overactive imagination, I generally find that adding serial killers or crazed animals to my psyche is a surefire way to avoid a restful sleep. Slasher Girls and Monster Boys showed me that there is enjoyment to be found in edging towards the limits of my comfort zone, and I found much to admire in the clever ways in which the various authors each found different and shocking ways to make me want to hide the book in the freezer, as Joey Tribbiani once did with a copy of Cujo and, indeed, Little Women. This collection has also given me plenty of new writers to look up, having provided a tantalizing and, obviously, massively terrifying, introduction to their work. And I will seek out their work, once I am able to emerge from behind my cushion.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is available now at GPL.

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