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Book Review: Our Shadows Have Claws, edited by Méndez & Ortiz

Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories
Yamile Saied Méndez, Amparo Ortiz, eds.
Hardcover / Ebook
ISBN: 9781643751832
Algonquin Young Readers, September 2022, 368 pgs

Those of us who use Twitter know that it can be a truly terrible place. As an open forum with no fees, it draws a range of folks, not all of them well-meaning. But it can also be a great place: an easy way to meet people, to do business, or to find inspiration. Amparo Ortiz writes in her acknowledgements to Our Shadows Have Claws: “It all started with a tweet . . . I asked editors to put together an anthology featuring monsters from different Latine cultures. People asked me to edit it instead and offered to contribute their stories. Turns out, others were craving more Latine horror.”

I’ve reviewed a number of anthologies whose purpose, at least in part, is to amplify voices of folks who aren’t being seen as much in genre. This includes Latinx Screams, Reclaim the Stars, El Porvenir, ¡Ya!, and others; and there are a number of other anthologies I didn’t review (but which you should still check out) like Speculative Fiction for Dreamers, Latinx Rising, and more. You might be tempted to wonder why readers would still be craving a book like this.

But . . . please don’t.

Okay, I can’t keep you from wondering, or even asking. But instead of giving you some statistics, I’ll give you homework: go to the Barnes and Noble site, or the Waterstones site, type in the words “horror anthology” and see what comes up. Sure, there are some good books. But you still don’t see a lot of anthologies edited by people of color pushed onto that first page. The books are out there, friends, and they are awesome! (I invite you to browse through my Lightspeed reviews for a few recommendations.) And if you look through the tables of contents of the anthologies that do come up, you’ll find only a few authors of color in most of them. In fact, some of these books will actually have no authors of color. End of the day? The average reader is seeing maybe 400 stories or so on that first page alone, and very few of them are by Latine authors.

The authors are out there! Books are happening! But the struggle is still very real, y’all.

Yamile Saied Méndez and Amparo Ortiz have gathered an assortment of fun horror pieces in Our Shadows Have Claws. Each of these authors knows how to put together a story. You could buy this book, kick back on the couch with a glass of wine (dark red, of course), pick a random story, and be entertained. But I’ll talk about a few that I particularly enjoyed.

“Leave No Tracks” by Julia Alvarez centers on Guapa, whose father left her mother to raise a more “acceptable” family. The dad kept Guapa and her mom a secret, mostly helping to raise Guapa by proxy and by money. While Guapa didn’t want for material things, she definitely wanted for that paternal relationship. At the outset of the story, Guapa’s mother commits suicide. Guapa’s loneliness is sharpened, and to complicate things, she leaves her home to accompany the body, to meet relatives she has never met before. In the course of her journey, she must reconcile the disparate parts of herself, not only learning more about who she really is, but figuring out how to embrace that intersectionality. It’s as much about discovering yourself as it is about belonging, or letting yourself belong, especially when you’ve been raised by one group of people to see yourself (or to be seen) in only particular ways. The story is smoothly told and well-delivered.

Gabriela Martins contributes “Bloodstained Hands Like Yours,” about an orphan named Olivia who just turned eighteen. Her best friend Jenny found a home just in time, but Olivia finds herself sleeping nights by a statue, along with just over twenty other people—most of them, she’s not sure she can trust. Her sense of worth plummets. Needing some sense of purpose—especially seeing Jenny’s many options—when Olivia finds out people have been going missing, she swears to get rid of the killer. Unfortunately for her, the killer may have taken notice . . . The narrative gives us the journey of a strong-willed individual finding her purpose, and her sense of self-worth, while simultaneously offering sobering observations about the failures of important systems, such as the child welfare system. It’s a strong entry which layers meanings while never losing sight of the central character and her journey.

One of the strengths of “The Boy from Hell” by Amparo Ortiz is the author’s clever turns of phrase. Combined with a lilt of humor and a lovely conversational style, this story is just a pleasure to read, and to smirk along with as you do. “Hell is a pretty face with bad intentions,” it begins, and if that isn’t a good opening line, I don’t know what is. (And I actually do know good opening lines!) Diem is a monster hunter in training, and her family has a history of bad blood with a specific frío, El Vampiro de Moca. Turns out that this particular frío may be active again. When one of Diem’s classmates comes to her, concerned for the safety of his sister, Diem decides it’s time to deal with the shadow that’s been hanging over her family since her grandma’s time as a hunter. It’s an engrossing piece, with good subtext on gender and empowerment, colorism, and more.

Many of the stories in this book feature great characters, but Pinky was one of my faves. In “Sugary Deaths” by Lilliam Rivera, Pinky is a fierce young girl who dominates the local Pac-Man table. One day, a young man shows up, aged twenty-three to her seventeen. He knocks her out of the top score spot. Then he challenges her to play, but she senses that something is . . . off, so she declines. He’s handsome and just arrogant enough and, of course, everyone is eager to befriend him. It doesn’t take long for Pinky to figure out what is off about him, and she decides to do something about it. The narrative style is straightforward, which propels the story, and the family dynamics add a level of enjoyment. It’s a really cool piece.

“The Nightingale and the Lark” by Chantel Acevedo is something of a Romeo and Juliet story. In fact, the main characters are Julio and Rosa. In this version, Rosa is a young monster hunter and Julio is from a family who believes in saving and protecting monsters. The piece is well-told, with descriptions that make the read immersive. The tale first leans into the romance, then the conundrum of the conflict between the two families. The standard family conflict is further nuanced, however, by class conflict, and nuanced again by examining ideas of monsterhood. The pieces are familiar, but they are all put together very nicely, making a lively read.

Many of the stories share certain thematic elements. There are conversations around race, around gender, around family, and a fair number of them tackle different kinds of belonging or self-acceptance (or both). What’s wonderful about these selections is that they don’t lose sight of telling a good story; they keep it entertaining, while shining a light on the truths that are around us every day. There’s a lovely range of monsters to be discovered, and part of the fun is in discovering the different ways they’re utilized across narratives and perspectives. The book also features illustrations by Ricardo López Ortiz, which adds to the overall pleasure of the read. Sometimes bloody, sometimes sharp, this set of stories is worth adding to your collection. Pick it up, pay money for it, and help those bookstore algorithms to showcase a much broader range of works!

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg is co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine and a 2022 recipient of SFWA’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. He is also a 2021 and a 2022 World Fantasy Award Finalist, a 2022 Locus Award Finalist, and a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards: for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is a senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: arleysorg.com. He has taught classes, run workshops, and been a guest for Clarion West, the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Cascade Writers, Augur Magazine, and more. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Find him on Twitter @arleysorg. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.