The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro (Reviewed by Daniel P. Haeusser)

 Book Review: The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro

Order The Haunting of Alejandra HERE

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: V. Castro is a two time Bram Stoker award nominated writer born in San Antonio, Texas, to Mexican American parents. She’s been writing horror stories since she was a child, always fascinated by Mexican folklore and the urban legends of Texas. Castro now lives in the United Kingdom with her family, writing and traveling with her children.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: 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.
FORMAT/INFO: The Haunting of Alejandra is a novel of 272 pages written from multiple third-person perspectives. It released in the US and Canada by Del Rey Books (Penguin/Random House) in April 2023 in hardcover (ISBN 9780593499696) as well as audio and e-book formats. It is due for release in the UK by Titan Books on 17 October 2023 in paperback (ISBN 9781803365619) and e-book formats.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:

“We listen to the women who came before us. We change the future by unloading the sorrow of the past. We sever the cord of generational curses. Some cords are meant to shrivel away. They are our blood, we are not them. We do not have to accept it. None of it.”

These lines appear twice in V. Castro‘s The Haunting of Alejandra: once in the latter part of the novel as quoted above, and once in modified form before the start of the novel as an epigraph attributed to one of Alejandra’s ancestors, Flor Castillo, soldadera and mother. The epigraph represents the thematic core of the novel, and the dual occupation of Flor equally represents the defining characteristics of protagonist
Alejandra and all the women of her family who came before.
Castro gives all of these women voice through chapters that vary between the point of view of protagonist Alejandra and her predecessors, from the birth mother she has just been reunited with to the original ancestor who made a deal with a demonic creature to begin the generational curse. This construction very effectively establishes the themes of generational horrors, of inherited, perpetuated trauma. It also allows Castro to demonstrate how (as the epigraph implies) overcoming these horrors comes though collective, generational powers of support and committed resilience.
The ancient demonic entity that adopts the form of the legendary La Llorna feeds off of the doubts and self-hatred that it provokes in its victims down the female line through Alejandra and her eldest daughter. Uniquely, passages also provide point of view from this creature. This allows Castro to really shine with her strengths in writing depictions of the literal, physical horrific. With the supernatural antagonistic force of La Llorna, Castro couples antagonistic realism in the form of Alejandra’s husband. Unfortunately, Castro fails to develop this human character to the extent of her supernatural creature, making him an over-the-top, cardboard model of callous and abusive masculinity.
On the other end of the spectrum, Castro includes a supportive character for Alejandra apart from the generational ties, a therapist and curendera who helps guide Alejandra down the path of self-affirmation and listening to her heart and generational guidance to find a way to overcome both the supernatural curse and the husband/culture that afflict her. Yet, this therapist is cast in equally cardboard fashion, making such ‘realistic’ elements of the novel less believable than the fantastic horror.
Aside from the underdevelopment of these two key secondary characters, The Haunting of Alejandra also suffers from unnatural dialogue and overwrought internal monologue. This issue pervades all of the points-of-view through the novel, tied to a lack of distinctive voice (or authorial writing style) for each of the characters through the generations of time and context. While highlighting the similarities between Alejandra and her ancestors is integral to the themes of the novel, Castro fails to balance that with any diversity in character voice or eccentricities of dialogue to make any view seem unique or fresh.
Despite such significant flaws, The Haunting of Alejandra remains an entertaining and interesting read just through its conceptual mastery of literal horror and allegory, as well as Castro’s superior skills at writing descriptive text, particularly passages of pure horror genre. The horror of The Haunting of Alejandra probably won’t be scary, but it will be unsettling with flashes of terror. Body horror best describes what Castro works with here, and its a form that has often been explored by female horror writers that
compare the blood associated with female biology with traditional horror gore. It plays with concepts of what is beautiful and natural with what is considered disgusting and unnatural. What should be celebrated and talked about/looked upon openly versus what should be stopped or overcome. Though a familiar avenue of horror speculation, Castro both does it well and gives it a fresh perspective by tying it to this new take on La Llorona. For this alone, fans of horror genre should appreciate what Castro sets out to do and accomplishes in The Haunting of Alejandra.
CONCLUSION: In The Haunting of Alejandra, Castro conceptually captures generational female horror and its transcendence through resilient collective feminine power. The novel perfectly balances allegorical horrors of psychology and culture with literal supernatural terrors, as well as the wondrous blood and viscera of biology with chilling gore. Though offering a refreshing take on the Mexican legend of La Llorona through a multiplicity of POVs, Castro’s execution of the novel falters with unnatural dialogue and overworked interior monologue.. Similarities in the stories of Alejandra and her ancestors work well, but fail to be balanced by any diversity in their voices. Despite flaws in the novel, Castro’s descriptive passages reward richly, particularly in those moments of pure horror. While The Haunting of Alejandra may not be scary per se, its unsettling spiritual terrors bridged with onslaughts of psychological trauma should be enjoyed by devoted horror genre fans.

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