Friday, November 27, 2015

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

I'm honestly not usually a big fan of collections of short stories. Most of the time, there are a few standout, amazing stories and the rest are forgettable or mediocre. This anthology is different. So many of these stories were impressively chilling. I enjoyed that each story ended with the inspiration behind the story whether it's a movie, song, or TV show. Mild spoilers may follow.

* The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma, inspired by The Birds and Rear Window

The first story in the book sets the pitch dark tone. A neighborhood man is just a little bit off and creepy. The girls that live around him feel uneasy around him, but the adults always defend him and nothing definite ever happened. Until now. The story goes right to a pedophile which is a real danger in the world. That danger is real and immediate. Then a supernatural force comes in. I love the mix of reality and fantasy. It's also a cool mix of horror and fantasy. The finale which is actually right at the beginning as the story comes full circle feels like it belongs in a fairy tale.

* In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan, inspired by Disney's film Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

This story is the most memorable and chilling of the bunch. A girl named Cassidy is obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. One day, she finds a clearing in the middle of the forest with a moldering tea party table. With no idea who it might belong to, she uses it to her imagination's content. The owner of the table adds to it as she does and they sort of become friends. She sees him off in the distance and he looks just like the White Rabbit from her favorite story. When her birthday part doesn't go as planned due to some rude guests, the White Rabbit then gives her a macabre birthday present that she doesn't wholly reject. The story is told hopping back and forth in time from age seven to age seventeen and back. The White Rabbit returns a decade later, more dirty and tattered and just as sinister. This story gets under your skin and makes it crawl. The images are nightmarish, vivid, and not for the faint of heart.

* Emmeline by Cat Winters, inspired by the film All Quiet on the Western Front, Kiss Me Again Strnager by Daphne du Maurier, and Nosferatu

Emmeline is a French girl living in her burned out room that was destroyed by a stray shell in World War I. Her family hosts soldiers and she befriends one to take to her room. This is one of the few to take place in the past. It also takes expectations in a situation like this and turns it around, making it fresh and new. Most of the story is flirting between Emmeline and an American soldier in her burned out room. I suspected something early on, but the twist was still fun. The ending is just the right amount of horror and lets the imagination run wild with its implications.

* Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo, inspired by Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle by Nirvana

Jaycee is a pop star in a lot of trouble: drugs, nude photos and mandated rehab. Her manager/mom is already working on a manufactured story to catapult her back in the public's good graces and the spotlight. There is something sinister and dark about the rehab facility. I always like weird mental institutions and Leigh Bardugo puts an unexpected twist on the story. The atmosphere at the facility is fearful and restrictive. The nights are the worst. Everyone is alone and vulnerable in separate rooms. The ending is super creepy and the lead up to it is full of suspense.

* Hide-And-Seek by Megan Shepherd, inspired by Final Destination, The Crow, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

It finally happened. Annie's drunken, abusive father finally killed her. She does have the opportunity to escape death in a game of Hide and Seek until sunset the next day to earn her life back. Death doesn't play fair and many people get caught in the crossfire. If she wins, everything will be restored to how it was before the game started. I see all of the influences in the story but it's wholly unique. Annie's fight to survive starts right away and continues at breakneck speed. We never know when another attempt is going to happen or in what form it my take. The ending is clever and unexpected. This was one of my favorite stories.

* The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige, inspired by The Omen and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Marnie was always kind of an outcast but always excelled in school. She can't help but answer questions in class even though Everly will make her life hell. Damien Thorne, an intriguing but quiet boy, takes an interest in her much to the shock of her nemesis. They strike up a courtship, but Damian is more than he seems. If you're at all familiar with The Omen films, the antichrist's name is Damian Thorne. I was a little disappointed the story was such a literal continuation of the film instead of just being inspired by it. Damian even mentions events from the film directly. It's basically fan fiction that ignores the sequels. The story is ok. Marnie is enamored by anti-heroes in literature like Frankenstein's monster and Dracula, but when confronted with one in real life, she has to decide how she will react to his not super moral actions.

* The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke, inspired by Carrie and I Know What You Did Last Summer

A group of friends drive down the road, drunk, celebrating their last year of high school. They hit a girl in the road and decide what to do. Throughout the story, it becomes clear that one of the boys knew her more than he was willing to admit. The title is genius and you would never know what it signifies unless you read the story. Again, the influences are definitely there, but subtle. It's a fairly short story, but packs a punch. It shows how a single moment of guilt and doubt can follow you the rest of your life and consume you.

* Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry, inspired by Zombieland and Night of the Living Dead

Dahlia has a beautiful name, but none of her physicality matches her name. She's accepted her lot in life and gets revenge on people whenever she can. The world ends on a seemingly normal day, making her skillset much more desirable than the average popular or attractive person. Jonathan Maberry is one of my favorite authors and he doesn't disappoint with this short story. A zombie apocalypse breaks out, leading Dahlia to save her fellow student and fight against the zombies. Despite her admittedly unfortunate looks, Dahlia is very strong and capable. This new world is more suited to her and she finds happiness by the end of the story. This one has a more lighthearted tone than most of the other ones and it stands out as a result.

* Sleepless by Jay Kristoff, inspired by Psycho and Mudvayne's Nothing to Gein

Justin likes a girl with the screenname C0ff33 and they've been chatting back and forth for a while. He's ready for the next level, but his mom keeps getting between them and berating him for even talking to her. When she runs away from home, it's the perfect opportunity for them to be together. Unfortunately, he grossly misrepresented himself, so he has to get a little creative. I thought I knew what would happen in this story. I figured it would be a modern replica of Psycho, but it was completely different. The ending flips expectations in a delightful and memorable way. The IM messages were useful in introducing the characters and establishing their relationship. Jay Kristoff has a talent for this as seen in Illuminae.

* M by Stefan Bachman, inspired by the film M and the TV show Upstairs Downstairs

Misha is blind and usually regarded as barely a person. She goes through her life being ignored and used to it until she stumbles upon a murder in progress. The murderer threatens her life if she tells and leaves abruptly. The only clue she has is his distinctive scent and she is bound and determined to catch the killer. This is another story that takes places in the past. This blind woman is seen as pretty much useless with no skills or social standing. We don't even know that she's blind until a few pages into the story, which is an interesting twist in the story. Her investigation skills impress as she analyzes everything she sensed from the murderer from his scent to the sound of his voice. She employs the help of a servant girl, who also has no social standing, and together they seek expose the killer. I love the contrast of the wealthy and influential doing basically nothing while these two women do everything to save themselves and others. The ending is pretty surprising, but depressingly realistic in its aftermath. The children in the story are incredibly creepy and make this Gashlycrumb Tinies-esque songs about everyone they know.

* The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu, inspired by What Lies Beneath and Los Ojos de Julia

Richard thought his room in his new house was a little odd because the closet was locked from the inside. He slowly becomes aware of a girl who seems to be following him. She always has her back to him or her face hidden, but she's appeared many places to him. First, she is at a distance and then slowly gets closer and closer, even superimposing herself over his teacher so he assaults her to demand answers. Why is he being haunted by this incorporeal girl? This story was unexpected. I liked that it dealt with a lot of relevant issues for women and girls while having us guess at this mystery. I loved the ending and it acts as a kind of cautionary tale.

* A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman, inspired by Kuroneko

A plague has wiped out most of the women of Mowich's people. The indigenous people don't have this problem, so it's typical for his people to kidnap their women and girls to sell for a high price for people to be able to continue their families. Nara, daughter of a shaman, is determined to fix the problem, but is kidnapped along the way. This story read more as dark fantasy than horror to me, but it has a really cool dystopian edge to it with the plague. There are quite a few twists and turns. I never quite knew where it was going to go. The ending is a bit heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same times.

* Stitches by A.G. Howard, inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

After Sage's mother died, her father was never really the same. He became abusive to the point of grave danger. She and her siblings had lost teeth and gained bruises due to his wrath. He gets thrown in jail one day and makes a deal with a doctor to replace his hands, feet, eyes, ears, and tongue with another's in exchange for a large amount of money. The only catch is that Sage has to do all the amputating and sewing because the doctor won't leave his house and won't accept visitors. This was another one that feels more like dark fantasy. It takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept that a teenage girl can perform complicated amputations and reattachments with complete success. This story was really touching. The father sees his horrible actions and seeks to replace them to become a better person, literally and figuratively. Sage is a strong character, always seeking to protect her siblings and do what needs to be done when everyone else shies away from it. I like her ability to reimagine what she's doing to make it more palatable. For instance, she imagined making gingerbread men instead of sewing a new foot onto her father. This story was one that I had no expectations for and enjoyed going where it took me. It's a bit odd, but enjoyable.

* On the I-5 by Kendare Blake, inspired by Death Proof and The Hitcher

EmmaRae is hanging out at a diner, waiting for the opportunity to move the dead girl in the dumpster nearby. It's her job to lay these girls to rest that were victimized, possibly raped, and murdered. Kendare Blake doesn't disappoint with this amazing story. It has ghosts, gore, revenge, and justice. I loved that this story lets you know what's going on in small chunks, kind of like a flower that opens little by little. I don't want to give too much away because it's very cool.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is one of the strongest anthologies I have ever read. Each one feels a bit familiar, but each author changes and tweaks each story to create something new. None of these are boring or predictable. It has definitely raised the bar for collections like these for me.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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