Kate’s Review: “The Haunting of Alejandra”

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Book: “The Haunting of Alejandra” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Del Rey, April 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: 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.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I have had a serious, serious fascination with the La Llorona folk tale ever since I stumbled upon it in an American folklore book in elementary school. The idea of a ghostly woman who drowned her children, and now wanders the river banks of the Earth looking for her children, weeping loudly along the way, scared the absolute crap out of me (especially since as a child I lived within walking distance of the Mississippi River). When V. Castro, a Latina horror author who has taken Mexican folklore and written some fantastic horror fiction, said she was writing a La Llorona story, it became one of my most anticipated reads of 2023. I had really high hopes for this book. And man oh man did it deliver.

I am SO excited that V. Castro decided to take on the La Llorona story because of my childhood obsession with it, and given that she’s a fantastic horror writer with a voice that is so unapologetically Chicana it is just the perfect fit. And the way that she applies it to this story to fit real world horrors is just fantastic. It’s told mostly through the perspective of spiraling mother Alejandra, who has started seeing visions of a woman in white during especially trying moments. But then there are the ways that we trace back through the generations of Alejandra’s familial line, and how this presence has been there to torment many of the women through the generations, and whose lives were impacted or destroyed, the trauma passing down and down. Whether it’s an Indigenous woman who is making a dark bargain with this entity to escape her Spanish abuser, or Alejandra’s biological mother who gave her up after becoming pregnant as a teenager (and thought she was doing the right thing, BUT Alejandra was left with a very cold and controlling Evangelical family’s care, that’s a whole other layer to this story that I really thought was well done), or her grandmother with few choices in a marriage with too many children and a philandering husband, the presence of ‘La Llorona’, or whatever it is, serves as the perfect metaphor for the horrors of marginalized women with very few options. I loved seeing all of these women and their stories, and seeing Alejandra be pushed to perhaps try and stop that cycle and to fight against this entity is really, really empowering.

But I also found a lot of the horrors of motherhood aspects of this story pretty relatable. Caveat, I am no means in the same position as Alejandra is, as she is in a loveless marriage with a controlling boob who pressured her into more children than she wanted and discouraged her from working outside the home, while I have a really great romantic and parenting partner and we are one and done with our hilarious but spirited three year old. But all that said, there were so many spot on moments that Castro put in this book, whether it’s the frazzled rush of having to go go go with meandering children in tow, or having to be in charge of schedules and chores and doctor’s appointments and more, or feeling like you really don’t get a break while having to sacrifice so much, and then feeling guilty for feeling like you deserve more. While the supernatural demon/La Llorona bits and the suspense surrounding Alejandra and her women ancestors were super effective and scary, I was more set on edge by the way that Alejandra was being pushed closer and closer to breaking, and what that would mean for her and her children. Because THAT is something that does happen in real life, and the consequences of that can be deadly and devastating. This is just as much a horror story about postpartum depression and psychosis as it is generational trauma, and it is SO well done.

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is harrowing and evocative and everything I could have wanted from a La Llorona story. V. Castro continues to thrill and amaze me, and I am so excited to see how she tops herself next time, as I feel like she is always exceeding my expectations.

Rating 9: A deeply unnerving and scary examination of generational trauma and the unspoken pressures of motherhood, “The Haunting of Alejandra” is another fantastic horror tale by V. Castro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Haunting of Alejandra” is included on the Goodreads “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”, and “The Female Malaise: She’s Sad, Mad, and Bad”.

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