Fun fact about me: I love horror movies. And ghost stories. And, generally, anything with a certain creep factor to it. I consider being freaked out a good time. I also adore fiction with a meta slant that references and parallels specific classics. With all this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, an anthology put together by April Genevieve Tucholke, is exactly my jam.
Every entry is directly inspired by 1 to 3 previous iconic works, be they film franchises, famous literature, or even songs. All of the short stories have distinct identities, pulling from separate subgenres. Some look at the archetype of the bullied outsider (“Fat Girl With a Knife,” “The Dark, Scary Parts and All”) while others have a folkloric edge (“Hide-and-Seek,” “Stitches”). A few appear to go in a certain direction before slapping the reader in the face with a single line that changes everything (“Sleepless,” “The Girl Without A Face”). Regardless of whether a specific installment involves a human killer, vengeful spirits, or creatures altogether undefinable, they each pack a punch, and I love the triumphant endings as much as the tragic, creepy ones.
The best of horror often roots around in psychology, and these writers involved take that to heart, producing character-driven works that ease you into the worlds they’ve created. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite, but I particularly adore Leigh Bardugo’s “Verse Chorus Verse,” a piece about the dark relationship between teen pop star Jaycee and her embittered stage mom Kara. The meat of the story takes place in a rehab center with unsettling secrets, but its ugly heart lies in the ways Kara’s parenting has failed Jaycee. The concept sounds well-worn, but the execution is so creative that you feel gutted with anxiety by the time you reach the final paragraph.
Similarly, “In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan focuses on a lonely child and her mysterious animal companion, lacing every page with ambiguous unease as each layer of their relationship is peeled back. What’s great about both of these stories is that they don’t explain their fantastic elements, which only adds to the eerie effect. I know some people hate it when mystical horror villains don’t seem to have any concrete rules, or violate their own internal consistency, but I’ve never seen that kind of writing as lazy. After all, what’s more frightening than a mystery you can’t hope to understand or resolve?
On whole, Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is a brilliantly spooky collection of short fiction that any fan of horror should check out when they get a chance. The book regularly explores mature, triggering themes like sexual abuse and domestic violence, so readers should proceed with caution. If you do decide to dive in, get ready for a thrillingly beautiful and incisive treat — the writing here is so effective and precise as to be downright surgical.