While perusing NetGalley last summer, I came across The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro. The cover was stunning and the summary captured my interest, and I was so happy to be given an ARC of it. I read it last October, both in honor of Latinx Heritage Month and to celebrate Spooky Season. I was in exactly the right mood for this haunting yet poignant novel of motherhood, intergenerational trauma, and fear.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine and Del Rey for providing me with an ARC of this book!
Alejandra is a stay-at-home mother of three, but despite the seemingly wonderful life she has, she’s depressed and suicidal. She is also seeing things that can’t be real: a ghostly woman who tells her to end things. Feeling terrified for herself and her children, yet also broken inside, Alejandra seeks a therapist (and curandera) to unravel what she’s going through. How much of this is mental illness and how much is real haunting? What really happened to all the women who came before her?
The Haunting of Alejandra completely absorbed my attention from the first paragraphs. It immediately introduces a haunting, ghost-like presence in Alejandra’s life, but it also shows how deeply mentally unwell she is. She’s depressed and suicidal, and her husband is no solace. He and their three kids can feel like a burden on her, yet she also loves her kids with all of her heart. The book goes into some dark spaces, and the writing is deeply moving and raw. Even though I’m not a mom and don’t experience suicidal ideation, I really felt for Alejandra. The writing is that powerful and visceral.
The novel goes into two different directions. On the one hand there is mental illness. I appreciated the sensitive depictions of Alejandra’s mental state and how isolated she feels. We get a glimpse into her past and how it may have contributed to her feelings, as well as how her identity as a Mexican-American woman largely hasn’t been reflected in others she’s close to. However, we also see Alejandra find empowerment through therapy; this is an important aspect of the book, and I appreciate where it leads Alejandra by the end.
The other theme of the novel is, of course, what is haunting Alejandra. This isn’t a case of her new home being haunted; this is something that is specific to Alejandra. The demon is similar to La Llorona, and it reiterates the worst of Alejandra’s suicidal ideation, encouraging her to end things. What I found fascinating is how this demon has gone back dozens of generations in Alejandra’s family. From at least the early 1500s, this demon has haunted women. It combines the concept of intergenerational trauma with the famous ghost of Mexican folklore. I loved how these two themes played together, and how Alejandra’s mental illness factored in as well. Her therapist is also a curandera, which further connects these themes.
While most of the story focuses on Alejandra in fall 2020, other chapters follow her women ancestors’ experiences with the demon. From 1522 Mexico to her mother in 1978, this demon has wreaked havoc in so many women’s lives upon them becoming mothers.
Speaking of the demon: I love how this creature is described throughout. Sometimes it seems like an evil woman in a white dress, similar to La Llorona. Other times, the demon seems more disgusting, with umbilical cords wrapped around it and blood drool dripping from its mouth. The writing is immersive, painting a vivid picture of terror as Alejandra faces the demon haunting her and her children.
As much as I loved all of the above, The Haunting of Alejandra could have been improved in some ways. One that took me out of the story was the often stiff dialogue. Conversations Alejandra has with her therapist and with her mother don’t always sound authentic to how people really talk. It felt like the dialogue tried too hard to push certain plot points forward, but ultimately sounded stilted.
The overall plot gets a bit lost by the end, too. Different themes don’t come together as fully as I would hope, and sometimes the flashbacks to previous generations seem too out of line with the rest of the story. While I enjoyed some of those chapters, others felt less vital to the story. I would have liked to see more impactful connection between generations.
Overall I greatly enjoyed The Haunting of Alejandra. It is immersive and unsettling, with a thoughtful connection between mental illness, intergenerational trauma, and hauntings. I loved what was done with La Llorona and how that well-known story factored in here as well. While some elements could have been a bit stronger, it was still a fascinating novel. I would love to read more from V. Castro.
Get the Book
You can buy The Haunting of Alejandra here – it’s available as a hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.
|The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro|
|Setting||Mexico; Pennsylvania; Texas|
|Number of Pages||272|
|Format I Read||ebook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||April 18, 2023|
A woman is haunted by the Mexican folk demon La Llorona as she unravels the dark secrets of her family history in this ravishing and provocative horror novel.
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.
About the Author
V. Castro was 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.
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