[cw: body horror, child abuse, death, descriptions of blood and gore]
When I was in fourth grade, my father told me the legend of La Llorona, a vengeful ghost. According to the story, which dates all the way back to at least 16th-century Mexico, the woman forever roams waterfront areas at night, crying and searching for the children she drowned. I remember being terrified, but also fascinated. I went on to share the legend with friends, who were just as spooked and interested as I was. For a while, when I went to sleep at night, I’d listen carefully for wailing sounds, very invested in La Llorona’s search. This is the earliest memory I have of enjoying horror stories. I’ve consumed many tales since then, but over the years, the same rush of excitement and awe remains every time I find a new piece of horror I love. I recently read and enjoyed a Latinx/e horror anthology, and it did not disappoint.
Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories is a YA anthology set across Latin America and its diaspora, edited by Yamile Saied Méndez and Amparo Ortiz. The stories feature monsters and all things mythological and legendary, but with a contemporary twist. Each author brings new characters and insights to these old stories in a way that is fresh and innovative. They also somehow manage to not just write creepy stories, but also stories that are socially conscious and that explore personal identity, family dynamics, culture, and community.
I enjoyed many of the stories, but my favorites were those that retold sexist tales, or rewrote stories written by dead white men. Chantel Acevedo’s “The Nightingale and the Lark” is a Romeo and Juliet re-imagining that features Cuban characters, monsters, and monster hunters. She also rewrites Cuban celebrations and rites of passage, like a quinceanera celebration that culminates in a hunt. The main character is torn between clashing duties: duty to her family, and duty to herself and her personal beliefs. The ending is a bit of a gut punch, in the best way.
“La Patasola” by Racquel Marie is a retelling of a Colombian legend that has traditionally served as a warning for men to beware of certain women. She re-fashions this into a queer, feminist story that centers on a young woman who is learning more about herself, and who is intent on being true to herself. It is also incredibly creepy and gory. A perfect balance, if you ask me.
This anthology reads like upper YA. There were times I forgot I was reading stories geared toward young adults and was reminded by the age of the characters and the situations. Many of the stories also gave off the vibes of the original ’90s Goosebumps series, which is to say that the vibes are immaculate. On a related note, I do believe this book could be easily adapted into an anthology horror TV series, without a doubt.
I also appreciate the consistency in length throughout the book; all the stories are roughly 20 pages long. This is probably just one of my bookish pet peeves, but I enjoy anthologies and collections with stories that are similar in length. Our Shadows Have Claws features stories that are not too long, but also not too short. Usually, I’ll want more from a short story, but with this book, I knew that as soon as I finished one, I could expect another good story right after.
Our Shadows Have Claws is the best YA anthology of Latinx/e horror I’ve read. It sits right at the intersection of Latinx/e Heritage month and spooky season, so there is no better time than the present to read it. This is one to enjoy in all the ways: add it to your shelf, request it from your library, listen on audio. No matter how you read it, be sure to share it with a horror-loving friend.