Young adult horror is a unique genre that has to be both more mature than Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark but less intense than a Stephen King novel. It can’t talk down to its readers, but it can’t alienate them by ignoring their own fears. Being a teenager is terrifying enough, throw in the supernatural, the unnerving darkness, or bloody surprises and it becomes an entirely different thing. An anthology of this nature is special already, but it’s one of the few horror collections written for a young adult audience.
This anthology and its stories take their inspiration from other works of fiction, history, movies, and even music. These muses aren’t given away until the end of the story, and so they won’t be spoiled here either. Some are classic and others are modern, but they are all different and stand on their own without the rest of the anthology. There are fourteen stories in this book, and we’ll be discussing the relative strengths and merits of each before we judge the novel as a whole.
- “The Birds of Azalea Street” by Nova Ren Suma. While at first read this story doesn’t seem to do much, further readings prove that some stories get better when they’re gone over a couple of more times. The story revolves around three girls who set out to prove their suspicions about a creepy neighbor. It’s fairly obvious which films this piece is inspired by, but it does a good job of distancing itself from the sources. The build-up to the quick succession of terror, horror, and revulsion works well and the ending is a decent pay off to what at first seems like just an okay story. Rated: 3/5
- “In the Forest Dark and Deep” by Carrie Ryan. This is one of those stories that haunted me long after I’d finished reading it. I’m not giving anything away by saying it’s based on Alice in Wonderland, but it goes far beyond the realms of what is acceptable for adaptations. However, in the end, it does pay off. This story follows Cassidy, at ages seven and seventeen, as she learns what lives in the forest behind her house. The physical horror isn’t that high compared to some of the others in the collection, but the mental terror the reader feels as complex conflicts are revealed is top notch. Rated: 5/5
- “Emmeline” by Cat Winters. Historical horror is a complex type to write since what terrifies society changes often. This story takes place during WWI in France as American soldiers take refuge in a half-bombed house where the protagonist lives. The tone definitely fits within the ghost story realm, but it doesn’t do anything revolutionary. There’s some nice sympathy involved, a decent twist toward the end, and some nice characterization, but it falls a little flat at times. While not the weakest piece in the collection, it doesn’t measure up in quality to many of the others. Rated: 2/5
- “Verse Chorus Verse” by Leigh Bardugo. This story about a famous pop star coming out of rehab and into her stage mother’s hands would honestly work better as a novel or novella length work. There’s so much at the subtext and backstory level of the writing that isn’t said and should be. The perspective shifts from the overbearing mother to the daughter work well and it’s a really good concept, but it doesn’t quite work in short story format. There is some good terror, but it doesn’t fully build up to true horror or revulsion. Rated: 2/5
- “Hide-and-Seek” by Megan Shepherd. It’s pretty obvious by the second page of this story what it took inspiration from, but it works well to change the canon and make it its own. Annie has to play Death’s game for twenty-four hours and survive or else she’s 100% dead. What follows is a backwater obstacle course as Death throws everything it can at her. The plot is fast-paced and well-timed for its length and you actually want Annie to win the game. Its sense of place is fantastic and the ending is a smart finish to a good story. Rated: 4/5
- “The Dark, Scary Parts and All” by Danielle Page. This short story about a bullied girl becoming the love interest of the mysterious, brooding boy reads pretty familiar to any fan of the genre. Its plot twist and new additions to its muse work well enough, and its blend of new world myth with old world is good. However, because of its overdone dark romance vibe it does lack some of the same oomph that the others do. There are a few moments where it seems like one story and then becomes another, but otherwise it flows fine. Rated: 3/5
- “The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh” by April Genevieve Tucholke. This is a familiar story of a group of kids who try to cover up a hit-and-run, but it succeeds at blending that narrative with another popular one. Otherwise the story doesn’t deviate too much from its source material and it doesn’t necessarily add anything new—other than a possible supernatural ending? The characters are a little flat, but otherwise interesting and the backstory before the killing is worth more than the after. Rated: 2/5
- “Fat Girl with a Knife” by Jonathan Maberry. This is a fun story with a new twist on an overdone genre. Dahlia is plotting revenge in the girls’ bathroom when the world ends, and she discovers that what the popular kids shamed her for may be her greatest strength. Dahlia is a great character, sympathetic but engaging at the same time, and I would love to see a longer narrative with her at the forefront. While the plot itself has been done before, it’s the characters and their interactions that make it unique. A nice addition to the rest of the ghost/serial killer stories in the collection. Rated: 3/5
- “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff. This is another story where its muse is pretty obvious, but it does a good job of developing beyond that. Justin is in love with a girl he’s never met, known as Coff33_grrl, and struggles with his lack of girlfriend, an overbearing mother, and loneliness. Half of the story takes place through online conversations—which look and sound like the way people/teens actually talk—but the in-person action is tense and terrifying. The plot twist at the end is unexpected, but awesome and really changes the narrative in a beneficial way. Rated: 4/5
- “M” by Stefan Bachmann. This is another historical horror story that reads like a spooky Downton Abbey, but it also has that classic BBC mystery vibe. Misha is a wealthy, blind socialite who encounters a murderer one night and must solve the case before he strikes again. In the way of horror, this isn’t as intense or scary as many of the other stories in the collection, but it works okay on its own. The sensory descriptions of blind Misha are great, and there’s some nice characterization throughout. However, it doesn’t seem to find its feet, wobbles at times, and falls short of the rest of the collection. I would call this the weakest story of the bunch, but it isn’t terrible and could work for someone else. Rated: 1/5
- “The Girl without a Face” by Marie Lu. Richard is trying to start over his life at a new private school and in a new house, but the mysteriously locked closet and a dark secret are holding him back. There’s a lot of slow build to the finale and a good revelation of the secrets. The imagery of the open closet, the girl without a face, and the final picture of Richard are long-lasting impressions that will haunt readers after they’re done. It’s kind of like The Ring in its haunting antagonist and the tone of the setting. Definitely one of the creepier additions in the anthology. Rated: 4/5
- “A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow” by McCormick Templeman. This horror story takes place in a dystopian world where women are dying, and a shaman girl is sent off to save them. It’s hard to write a short sci-fi or fantasy story since it requires so much world-building for readers to understand the conditions surrounding the characters. The story jumps to four different perspectives, not really allowing characterization to develop in the same way as if it had been from a single point of view. It’s this constant shifting and lack of development that cost the story its horror, and it doesn’t satisfy in the way that it could. Rated: 1/5
- “Stitches” by A.G. Howard. As already known, I’m a fan of grit lit. This story takes the down south vibe and adds some body horror to it. Every so often, The Collector comes down into the valley and takes whatever body part Sage gives him from her Pa. In exchange, the mysterious figure gives her a new body part to stitch onto her father. This is a great rendition of its source material, adding onto the original fear and building to a terrifying climax. The characterization is pretty decent and the story itself is refreshingly original compared to others within the collection. Rated: 5/5
- “On the I-5” by Kendare Blake. If you’ve read Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood then you already know that she’s an expert at manipulating the horror genre. Surprisingly, in this short story she focuses more on humans than monsters. EmmaRae waits in a truck stop diner, reflecting on beasts and the dead girl in the dumpster out back. I would love to read an entire novel about this premise and, in a way, I have with Kali Wallace’s Shallow Graves. It’s amazing that a short story of this length could contain such a well-developed and paced plot. It’s a strong ending to the anthology and closes it in a satisfying way. Rated: 5/5
While most of the stories within Slasher Girls & Monster Boys are fairly average, there are some great stand-out editions to make up for some of the slumps. It’s rare to find a perfect anthology, but this one does a good enough job. The average score of the book itself is 3/5, an acceptable number. This collection is good for a read in October, and after the first time you’ll be able to go back and read your favorites again and again.
This OcTerror has been a wonderful experience, and I hope that y’all have enjoyed the book reviews, Halloween writings, and Friday Fright Fests. Next year there will be more scares, bigger jumps, and plenty of terror to go around. Until then…