Monday, October 12, 2015

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

I have never found an anthology of stories that I love entirely; that is, I love all of the stories in the collection.  It's never happened, and I don't think it ever will.  That's kind of the beauty of anthologies: there's something for everyone, which also means there's something everyone won't like.  I've had really mixed reactions to anthologies in the past--the best one I read was Unnatural Creatures, mostly because it was a) edited by Neil Gaiman and b) had a story by Neil Gaiman.


Slasher Girls and Monster Boys pretty much blows everything else out of the water.  There was only one story that made me uncomfortable, and two others that were fine, but not awesome.

I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone.
Ooh, you guys, I have just thought of a horrible complicated simile to express how I feel about this anthology versus anthologies in general.  

Imagine that a teacher gives her students a test comprised of ten essay questions.  After the students complete the test, she randomly selects ten tests.  She then selects one answer from each test.  What are the odds that the test will score 100%?  (If you do statistics, don't answer that, because it's probably pretty likely and will therefore undermine my whole analogy).  Unless you've got a group of MENSA students, it's highly unlikely that a Frankenstein monster of a test made of of ten different kids' answers will have every answer written in an engaging way, with a solid argument that answers the question.

That's kind of what happens with anthologies.  You give authors their essay topic and let them fly, but sometimes they overshoot and end up way out in bizarro-land, or they play it safe and end up in the meh-zone.  

But Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, even with a bit of drag from one story, totally passed this test.

I'll do a quick rundown of each story, as that seems to be the reviewing convention.

"The Birds of Azalea Street" by Nova Ren Suma.  I've only read one other book by Nova Ren Suma so far (The Walls Around Us), but her writing is so effortlessly, beautifully creepy that I need more.  This was somehow understated and lush at the same time. Brilliant choice of an opener.

"In the Forest Dark and Deep" by Carrie Ryan.  Sooo, I think Carrie Ryan might have a thing about forests and death, but I loved this one too.  A lot of other people didn't, which leaves me wondering: "What is wrong with you people?"  Bullying, tea parties, and killer animals from Alice in Wonderland?  Don't mind if I do!

"Emmeline" by Cat Winters.  This was quite simple, and even though I guessed the narrator's secret before the reveal, that was part of the fun.  If you want a paranormal historical fantasy, Cat Winters is your gal.

"Verse Chorus Verse" by Leigh Bardugo.  Unlike other readers who disliked this and thought it was "pointless," I found it ridiculously fun.  Bardugo's retelling of Britney Spears' breakdown via the fictional Jaycee Adams is completely spot-on, except here, the stage mom gets what she deserves.

"Hide and Seek" by Megan Shepherd.  Another win!  There's a relatively high body count in this one, but what do you expect when the main character is gambling with the messenger of death for her soul?

"The Dark, Scary Parts and All" by Danielle Paige.  This is where my enjoyment level took a nosedive.  Paige's story wasn't scary or provocative: it was the literary equivalent of those "Sexy Darth Vader" costumes on the internet: supremely and unforgivably tacky.  Also, can you say "awkward title"?

"The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh" by April Genevieve Tucholke.  This was ... okay.  However, it's basically a retelling of Carrie, and I have an unspoken rule that no one should ever try to rework Stephen King.  It's kind of like saying "I'm going to rewrite Harry Potter and make it better!"  I wish we'd seen more of the creepy coastal atmosphere.

"Fat Girl with A Knife" by Jonathan Maberry.  This review will be a bit longer, just because I have to unpack some things.

While the previous two stories were merely a mite more milquetoast than their predecessors (librarians love alliteration--can you tell???), this one made me uncomfortable.  I certainly don't object to the use of "fat" as a descriptor.  However, the conceit of the story is that this bullied fat girl fights off zombies because she has a lot of momentum and can smush them.  Dahlia Allgood is not only fat, but also has bad hair, acne, and a not-up-to-society's-ridiculous-standards face.  However, she takes some consolation from the fact that everyone in her family is just big.  Now for the punchline: "She had three aunts who collectively looked like the defensive line of the Green Bay Packers."  A-ha-ha-ha!  Soooo funneee!  Except those men are professional athletes, so what is Maberry implying here?  Yeah, in Wisconsin we have much beer and cheese.  We eat a lot of it.  A lot of us are fat.  All of us eat more cheese and drink more beer than we probably should.  And it's okay for *us* to make fun of ourselves, but did Maberry call out the Pack because they come from the land of brats?  I'm probably reading wayyyyyy too far into this, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

"Sleepless" by Jay Kristoff.  I generally like to think that I can see a plot twist coming.  Some inklings of it, at least.  Like the dust falling from the ceiling before a cave-in.  Kristoff totally had a "GOTCHA!" moment here, and then another one, and I loved it.  I also love his use of IM as the bulk of the conversation.  Between this and Illuminae, he's one of my newest favorite authors.

"M" by Stefan Bachmann.  I love the inspiration for this story, and Bachmann really succeeded in all-out Moody Gothic Atmosphere.  Did anyone else find the children's alphabet rhyme reminiscent of The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey?  I love that book.  "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs / B is for Boris assaulted by bears..."

"The Girl Without A Face" by Marie Lu.  This was pitch perfect, but completely different from what the hype led me to expect.  I need to read more by Lu.

"A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow" by McCormick Templeman.  The Glass Casket, Templeman's full-length YA novel, is a fairy tale retelling, and so is this short story.  I don't feel that "fairy tales" and "horror" can always be made to work together, though.  This succeeds as a fantasy, but skates by as a scary story.

"Stitches" by A.G. Howard.  "My identical twin sister, Clover, and little brother, Oakley, weren't allowed to watch Pa's dismemberment."  THIS STORY, you guys.  If I had to pick a favorite, this would be it.  Wow.  I wish this would have been the closer for the collection because it would have totally gone out with a bone saw bang!

"On the I-5" by Kendare Blake is the last story, and while it's a fun vengeance chain-letter type setup, I didn't adore it like I did "Stitches" or "Sleepless."

But I mean, look at that!  Out of a whole anthology, just three stories that were "eh"?  I didn't even actively dislike any of the "eh"s.  I just moved on.  This is an anthology miracle.





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