Book Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

A powerful collection of short stories that gave me the creeps and Girl Power feels all at once.

4/5 stars

cover-slasher-girls-and-monster-boys

synopsis for reviews 2

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. 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 supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

This was my first time reading a short story collection, and Slasher Girls & Monster Boys made it a good experience. I read the stories across the month of January and the beginning of February, and every time I came back to the anthology, the haunting stories sucked me back in.

My favorite part of this anthology is the strong Girl Power themes throughout. The stories really do pit Slasher Girls against Monster Boys, and though the end results are creepy as hell, they were also strangely comforting and empowering. I also loved how each author interpreted that idea a different way, creating a complex collection of Monster Boys and Monster Girls’ revenges.

My only problem with this anthology was that it was not consistent in its horror aspects, sometimes confusing me. The first two stories were deeply, deeply creepy—so much so that I almost stopped reading. But the next few stories were lighter, scary in a different way. By the end of the anthology, I liked that authors had taken different approaches to writing horror, but in the beginning, I was disappointed by the constantly changing tones. I don’t read a lot of horror, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the darkest, and I felt let down by some of the stories that were not as horrifying.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma

4/5 stars

The first story launched me into the anthology really well. This story creeped me out with a combination of paranormal and real-world terrors. Though it was a little predictable, I loved the satisfying vengeance at the end.

In The Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan

4/5 stars

By far the most haunting story in the anthology. Even now, thinking about it makes the hair rise on my arms…but also makes me smirk. The story started with a good main character and a creative monster and grew to a genuinely horrifying reveal. I wanted a little more from the writing itself, but the story was ingenious.

Emmeline by Cat Winters

4/5 stars

This was one of my favorite stories. Set in a bombed-out house in France during WWI, the story was defined by its clear and emotional setting. The story was less aggressively terrifying than the previous two, creating a gently scary story that made me feel mournful more than anything else.

Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo

3/5 stars

One of the most vivid stories in the anthology. It had a clear voice and a strong premise, building an emotional, complex and gritty story. I liked the pop music angle; putting the horror in a fully contemporary setting worked really well for the writing style and the story itself. But while this story definitely gave me the creeps, I felt like the paranormal elements were underdeveloped, keeping me from having that “aha” moment that I expected.

Hide-and-Seek by Megan Shepherd

3/5 stars

This was both one of my favorite stories and least favorite stories. I loved the premise—playing hide-and-seek with death in order to escape dying yourself—but it did not feel like it fit in this story collection. “Hide-and-Seek” was a great story to read: fast-paced, surprising, and original, but it just wasn’t creepy like the rest of the anthology. Also, it lacked a Slasher Girl, removing the agency of revenge from the female protagonist.

The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige

DNF

Yeah, I hated everything about this story. The set-up was painfully cheesy and cliche, relying on the “smartest girl must be a loner” trope—my least favorite trope in the world. It’s “analysis” of Frankenstein was weak and obvious, starting the book on a bad note while trying to prove the main character’s social-life-killing brilliance. Add a cringey romance and vague dream sequences I didn’t stick around to see the horror part develop.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke

4/5 stars

I loved this story. It was dark, heart-wrenching, stressful, and deeply distributing all at once, with vividly drawn characters and an emotional premise. I was impressed with its deft use of flashbacks and compelling characterization, as well as by the fact that it actually acknowledges that girls the get into Harvard have to work their asses off (if it hadn’t, I might have DNF-ed the story). Coming from the organizer of the collection, this story has one of the most interesting interpretations of the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys theme, making it a stand-out.

Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry

3.5/5 stars

The main character was the most fascinating part of this story. In the space of a short story, the author created a conflicted, complex protagonist that I was never completely sure would not turn out to be the monster herself. I loved the writing style, but the horror elements were really obvious, never giving me that reveal that I craved. Still, the ending was pleasantly surprising and uplifting.

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff

3/5 stars

Another story I am extremely conflicted about. The good: this was by far the most surprising and horrifying story in the collection. It kept growing and twisting, shocking me over and over again. The bad: it was incredibly problematic, using the “I’m not like other girls” trope, the phrase “kiddyqueer” (like…what???), and kind of male slut-shaming. Also, while I did read this anthology to get scared, I don’t feel like I signed up for the terrifying date-rape vibes of this story. If you want to be scared by a really effective piece of horror, this story does that, but it is so dark that I don’t know if I would actually recommend reading it.

M by Stefan Bachmann

2.5/5 stars

This story could have been powerful, but it felt like the author never pushed themselves. Everything ended up being predictable or obvious, which in a story that centers around a murder mystery is the exact opposite of what I wanted. It had a good setting and was a nice mystery, but a lot of the story felt like Plot™, rather than an actually captivating story. Additionally, the main character was blind, but the author’s approach to her character made it clear he had chosen that disability purely for the horror effects without really considering the larger implications for her character.

The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu

3.5/5 stars

This story transformed as I read, starting with sympathy and ending with pure hatred for the main character. It was not creepy so much as darkly satisfying. Honestly the most terrifying part was how deeply I hated the main character by the end, how effectively the author got me to root for his downfall.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman

3/5 stars

This was one of the less effective stories for me, mainly because it lacked that hard core Girl Power feeling I had come to expect. I enjoyed the pacing of the story, but the constantly changing POV was a lot to handle in such a short story. Overall, it was more bittersweet than creepy.

Stitches by A. G. Howard

4/5 stars

This story was a perfect penultimate tale for this anthology. The writing was gorgeous, with a powerful use of imagery to create a creepy (yet readable) story. The reveal was surprising, and the ending was strangely healing—not just for that story, but for the anthology as a whole. I loved the new angle on Girl Power and the successful re-imagination of Frankenstein.

On the I-5 by Kendare Blake

4.5/5 stars

This story killed it. The writing drew me immediately and unfolded well, with no jarring exposition at all. It had a gorgeous take on Girl Power, focusing on solidarity between victims and (of course) revenge. Creepy, but not too dark, the story was the perfect ending for this anthology. It spoke up for all of the girls that didn’t beat their Monster Boys the first time around, helping me heal from the emotional roller-coaster that was this anthology.


Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While this collection is not overwhelmingly problematic, it definitely is not perfect. Some stories use mental illnesses and disabilities as a plot devices. As discussed above, “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff was incredibly problematic for me.

Trigger warnings: Nearly everything. Strong TW for sexual violence/assault, physical violence, and abuse. If you’re curious about a specific trigger, comment or email me and I can confirm/deny it.

Book Review: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

I held off from reading this book during the school year because I knew I would want to read it all in one sitting–and that’s exactly what happened when I picked it up this summer.

4/5 stars

cover dangerous girls 1

Amazon Description

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.

But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine…

My Review

Let’s start off with this: this book is crazy. It is crazy and it takes you hostage and it doesn’t let you go. I read this book in one sitting, only taking breaks for meals. I couldn’t put it down, because I had this ever-present and mounting sense of dread and I just had to get to the ending because I knew I wouldn’t know the truth until basically the last page. In that regard, this book was everything a thriller/mystery is supposed to be.

The book is a massive series of flashbacks and flash-forewards, telling the story of how Anna and Elise became friends all the way through their fateful vacation and up until the trial for Elise’s murder. Some of the scenes were long and clearly explained what was going on, others were shorter and more vague, while others were told in alternative formats, like interview transcripts. I was amazed at that fact that I never got lost; usually with books like this, you start to lose track of where you are and what has happened, but even though this book’s chronology had basically been put in a food processor, it was easy to follow as a reader. I loved how the scenes flowed together across the timeline and how throughout the book we just kept learning more about Anna’s life, even the parts we thought we understood from the beginning.

Character-wise, this book is a mixed bag. I had a strong sense of Anna as a protagonist and I felt like I understood the things inside of her that drove her to party as wildly as she did with Elise and the rest of them. Elise, likewise, was clearly portrayed in my mind–she was as alive and vibrant as any character I’ve read about. I can’t say that I really liked or trusted Elise, but I appreciated that I didn’t like her–it fit with the story’s mood. The same goes for the rest of Anna’s friends. They were simplistically characterized but they all added an important voice to the story, and under the stress of the murder case they showed that they were not flawless humans (really they were what you would expect from the spoiled kids of uber-rich parents). During the flashback scenes, I liked watching them party and grow close, but I didn’t want to be them, and throughout the story there was always the threat that one of them could be a killer and the rest of them we’re loyal enough to tell the truth.

The characters involved in the trial were more interesting for me. There are not words for the helpless anger and frustration I felt against the prosecuting police officer, Dekker. He was the ultimate evil figure in power, and I loved/hated the way he painted Anna’s life to make her look like a murderer. The judge was a tiny beam of hope throughout the book. I trusted that she would be fair, but I also knew that Dekker was doing his job so well that fair would probably still condemn Anna. The news media’s take on the case fit perfectly with what I would expect if this happened in real life, and it was another voice of distrust that I ended up hating for Anna’s sake. Anna’s lawyers were equally kind and despicable, and I liked that we got to see doubt about her innocence even from the people who were supposed to be fighting for her. It was little details like that that ensured that the book had a feeling of realism and that I kept believing that this book could actually happen in real life.

As a cautionary tale, this book works wonders. Wow, let’s just say: trust issues. With friends, with foreign law enforcement, with lawyers, with news media. I doubt I will ever spend spring break in Aruba–it would just be too weird after reading this book.

The ending was crazy. The ending was exactly what it had to be and exactly what I never saw coming. And that’s basically all I can say without spoiling it…

But I need to rant about the ending, so from this point on, THE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. Do not read on if you haven’t read the book!

The ending really angered me. At first. The more I think about it, the more little pieces of the plot click into place and I see everything in a new light. But still, the ending was too sudden for me–it came out of the blue, and it had to do that, but at the same time, I wish I had had more of a sense of foreboding leading up to it.

I had spent the entire book, while everyone calls her a psychopath, countering it with the knowledge that I, as the reader, had the unique awareness that I was in her head. I had the truth, and she was feeling broken up and destroyed by the things happening to her, she was just the kind of person who could shut it down in the name of being “strong.” Having all of that turned on its head in the last five pages left me distinctly unsatisfied. As I’ve said, it was the only ending the book could have. Looking back on the story, Anna had to be the killer, or the entire plot would have been waste. None of that makes me less annoyed at the ending.

Half of me loves the ending. Finding out that you’ve been inside the head of a psychopath for the last 350+ pages is crazy and hair-raising in just the right ways. I want to reread the book and see if I pick up on clues, if I can tell that she is faking it.

But half of me wants more from the ending, so this book gets 4 stars instead of 5 stars. However, it still goes down as an incredibly impressive book, one that I will recommend to basically everyone.