The Haunting of Alejandra
by V. Castro
pub date 18-APRIL-20223
Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey
AMBER LOVE 21-MARCH-2023 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I also have Amazon recommendations in lists which may provide affiliate income.
Alejandra no longer knows who she is. To her husband, she is a wife, and to her children, a mother. To her own adoptive mother, she is a daughter. But they cannot see who Alejandra has become: a woman struggling with a darkness that threatens to consume her.
Nor can they see what Alejandra sees. In times of despair, a ghostly vision appears to her, the apparition of a crying woman in a ragged white gown.
When Alejandra visits a therapist, she begins exploring her family’s history, starting with the biological mother she never knew. As she goes deeper into the lives of the women in her family, she learns that heartbreak and tragedy are not the only things she has in common with her ancestors.
Because the crying woman was with them, too. She is La Llorona, the vengeful and murderous mother of Mexican legend. And she will not leave until Alejandra follows her mother, her grandmother, and all the women who came before her into the darkness.
But Alejandra has inherited more than just pain. She has inherited the strength and the courage of her foremothers—and she will have to summon everything they have given her to banish La Llorona forever.
The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro takes horror to an intersectional feminist level in a way that was unexpected. Castro unleashes a brazen way to deliver tropes and turn them into something brand new.
Castro presents the story of Alejandra and all her female ancestors as a folk tale that is terrifying within the Mexican and Mexican-American cultures. She allows Alejandra to tell her young daughter Catrina about La Llorona. While presenting this iconic legend, Alejandra explains that there are many versions of this story in various cultures. The tale of a weeping woman in white who has killed her children and spends eternity as a ghost searching for them is one that Alejandra can relate to—not that she would ever harm her three children only that she’s so depressed she wishes she weren’t a mother, a wife, or even alive.
As a child, Alejandra was raised by white evangelical Christians who denied her opportunities to learn where she came from or anything about her roots. She left as soon as possible and lived promiscuously and openly bisexual until marrying Matthew. She kept much of her past a secret from him and molded herself into everything he wanted in a wife. This despair she feels makes her wonder if La Llorona is real and if the cursed woman is chasing her.
Castro focuses on a different character or a pair in each chapter. These include Alejandra’s birth mother, ancestors, and her therapist, Melanie. Within those chapters readers are gifted the narration of the story’s biggest villain simply called “the creature.” This is a monster who is older than the Earth itself. The creature ends up on this planet drawn to it almost magnetically by depression and despair of women—their tears and blood giving it life and power it hadn’t known before.
These elements of mental illness—particularly postpartum depression and suicidal ideations of women—are the catalyst in Castro’s formula to remake the legend of La Llorona. I was not disappointed and I hope other fans of folklore are not either, especially for Chicana readers. Castro’s new origin of La Llorona (not spoiled here) is so much better than ones I’ve heard and the one Alejandra tells Catrina.
Melanie is the guiding force for Alejandra to help her find her own strength not to listen to the voice telling her that the world would be better without her. As soon as Melanie begins interfering with the creature’s manipulation of Alejandra’s delicate mental state, there is payback.
Alejandra has another champion in her birth mother Cathy who had given her up for adoption at the moment of the birth. This is a recurring theme as well. What makes a family? Are you supposed to love and trust everyone even they hurt you? Cathy’s story is also beautiful in its own way; as is Flor’s, one of the ancestors who rebuffed life in an unhappy arranged marriage and joined the war for Mexico’s independence.
Castro shows how all these women are bonded yet vastly different in what choices made them truly happy in their sad, awful lives.
In typical (white American) horror stories, there will be some way to get female characters in their underwear and often soaking wet or naked gratuitously. When Alejandra gets into a bathtub naked and bloody, this is a scene surpassing other stories that tried to make urban legends claiming to be more feminist like Jennifer’s Body. I started thinking of all the female protagonists in thrillers and then I asked for help on this part because these aren’t movies I’d normally watch (except Jaws is the best). The list illustrated that women ended up naked or in underwear for no reason other than titillation: Ripley in Alien. Norah in Underwater. Chrissie in Jaws. Most of Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Evil Dead, Wrong Turn, Piranha 3D, It Follows, anything labeled horror in the 1970s and 80s—Scream basically tried to parody the exploitation, but it failed at parody. There are too many to list quite frankly. If showing a gun or poison in a mystery has to be either a red herring or a clue; then in horror, blood-covered naked women have to serve a purpose to the plot.
To all the female characters dying in hot tubs and bodies of water, there can be more to your story! (Editors and Writers, are you reading this?)
- Severe depression and mental illness
- Sexual assault
- Religious zealotry
- Children/infant/fetal danger including miscarriage
- Gun violence
- Partner & child abuse
If you feel the content warnings won’t deter you, let me highly recommend this book. I do not like being scared and I never felt like I had to “put this book in the freezer.” I loved it!
Rating: 5 stars