It’s probably no secret to anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while (or who knows me in real life) that I enjoy horror, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that, though it’s a YA book, I picked up “Slasher Girls & Monster Boys” (ed. April Genevieve Tucholke).
I was excited about this book because of the title and the cover, which admittedly has done me wrong in this particular genre before, but I’m bummed to say that it didn’t live up to expectations.
On the one hand, there are a lot of female protagonists (not a surprise, given that it’s YA lit), and that’s normally not a bad thing, but horror has this weird relationship with women–particularly young women–and even in trying to subvert the genre, I feel as though many of these stories fell into the same traps that have existed since Gothic literature became a thing.
Most of the girls in this anthology are the victims of some kind of abuse. Which? I guess yeah, that is one of the biggest every day traumas that women in general have to face or run the risk of facing, but (and I’ve seen this complaint other places), I kind of don’t want my horror to focus on abuse narratives. The first story starts off with girls who are uncomfortable about one of their weirdo neighbors (all of the stories are retellings of sometimes multiple different, older works) and whose fears are justified when they find out that he has been taking photos of them, and then a bird girl kills him. So. It can be cathartic to see horrible people get what’s coming to the, but it’s frustrating when many of the characters in these short stories (written all by different authors) are not always people who necessarily care about. Sometimes to garner sympathy from the audience, victims are frequently female in the horror genre because 1) I guess there’s a perverse pleasure for some people to see women in danger or being harmed and 2) nobody expects girls to be able to defend themselves. Even in trying to be subversive (girls getting revenge on men who hurt them–by the way, it’s done better in “Hard Candy”–) we’re still witness to young women being abused (and I almost get that vibe that it’s easier to sympathize with a woman who’s been hurt? Which is strange) and, in one story, raped for the story. Furthermore, these stories are not particularly dread-inducing, and, worse, don’t tie up in a way consistent with the pacing of the stories. In many cases, it feels like the authors wanted to write something longer, realized what they were actually asked to do, and rushed it.
So the stories aren’t overwhelmingly great. That alone is a good enough reason to, if you’re planning on checking this book out, getting it from the library.
The biggest issue I had with the anthology was the presentation of it. I like anthologies a lot–I like short stories, I like being able to find works by different authors so that if I haven’t read them yet, I can get a sampler for their work, and I like, most importantly, that there’s usually a dialogue between the editor and the works within the anthology itself. (“Geektastic” and “First Kiss (Then Tell)” both do that pretty well, in my opinion.) I love the introductions to anthologies, whether there’s just a single one to get you excited about reading the book in general, or if the editors go the extra mile and write one for each story (and considering that there’s only 14 stories, a quick blurb about what I was getting into would have gone a long way. The lack of that introduction doesn’t do much for me as a reader, and as a writer I think I’d be a little frustrated. But I can’t say I’m surprised–not many of the stories are actually in the horror genre (think more mystery and urban fantasy, if that), so what would the “thesis” of this collection be when the works within it can’t support it? What’s the purpose behind having this anthology? What makes it necessary? What are the things that matter about it?
I don’t know. The common complaints I have remain: you can have horror exist without needing to put a focus on abuse, particularly abuse against young women. If you’re going to say that this is for “everyone who read Stephen King when they were way too young,” make it an actually compelling collection that scares the pants off of people. Maybe, for ONCE, make it a little less heteronormative–one of the biggest things holding the YA genre back is that the same story of girl-meets-boy is the one being told by the majority of authors, and it doesn’t matter how many demon skins you throw on a guy, he’s still a jock.
Oh, and P.S.? If you edited the anthology and contributed to it, you don’t need to have your author’s bio in the book twice. We get it.