by Daniela Z. Montes
Generational curses, an urban legend, and self-acceptance come together in a fast-paced haunting package in V. Castro’s The Haunting of Alejandra. Told in alternating point of views, Castro’s novel is more than a simple ghost story to be read during spooky season, it is a story about bonds. The ones people share, with themselves, their culture, friends, and their ancestors—the ones shared by blood and trauma.
When the reader meets Alejandra, she is sitting on her shower floor, period blood pooled around her, internally begging her children for a moment alone. Then La Llorona appears in the steam, telling her that she will help Alejandra end it all.
Alejandra is a stay-at-home mother, an adoptee, and she feels lost. She has no connection to her culture, barely knows her birth mother, has never met her father, and recently moved with her husband and children from Texas to Philadelphia, losing the community she once had. Alejandra is a supportive wife and mother, but her dreams—if she had any to begin with—fall to the wayside to make room for her husband’s wants and her children’s needs. As the novel progresses, Alejandra finds strength in herself with the help of Melanie, a therapist/curandera, who connects to her ancestors so she can face La Llorona head on and from her mother, who offers love, support, and familial stories.
Blood is an important symbol in The Haunting of Alejandra. “It coughed a spray of blood onto her left arm, singeing the skin…from wrist to elbow, dark-brown spots marred her skin…Generations of souls….” La Llorona has marked Alejandra’s family and has hunted them for generations. Since Alejandra was adopted, blood is the only thing that connects her to her ancestors. She grew up in a different religion, a different culture, and was surrounded by different beliefs. This brings into focus all that Alejandra does not have: the family legends, culture, and history that weren’t passed down to her. Alejandra is a shadow of a person and her ties to herself are weak. Through this strife, Castro shows the reader how complicated being an adoptee is. It is a life of never really belonging anywhere.
Castro uses La Llorona as a metaphor for generational trauma, as La Llorona is the awful things whispered in the lowest moments, the cutting remarks, and the reason for all the murdered women in Alejandra’s family. La Llorona is a representation of the traumas that we carry that are not ours. Alejandra’s haunting is not her fault, but the result of something that happened generations before she was born—and due to her isolation from her birth family and her culture, she is left with no information or support. If there is no communication, there is no way to see the patterns in the suffering, and no end, which is a terrifying concept. Only when Alejandra realized she was not the only one fighting La Llorona was she able to summon strength from the women before her to save herself and her children. She learned that she could not face generational trauma alone. To face trauma, people need support from different parties to heal from it.
Castro is successful in telling a compelling story of generational trauma by utilizing alternating points of view to tell the stories of Alejandra’s ancestors, and that of La Llorona. The reader learns how La Llorona plagued Alejandra’s ancestors and where the creature came from. These viewpoints showcase how the past affected Alejandra’s present. While Alejandra doesn’t know all the details the reader does, she is able to connect to her ancestors with Melanie’s help, her dreams, and by reconnecting with her mother. Through this, Castro shows the reader that they don’t have to know every single branch of their family tree to be connected to the people who came before, but that connection does have to be nurtured to exist. Community is the most important aspect.
Alejandra’s journey of self-acceptance and self-love is punctuated by one scary moment after another creating a nicely paced novel. Taking on trauma can be terrifying and isolating but add a creature that feeds on the despair into the mix and you’ve got an amazing horror story. Castro’s work is deep and speaks to all the things that make people human.
Daniela Z. Montes received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of California–Riverside, Palm Desert Low-Residency Program. She hosted writing workshops at her local public library. Her poems “Cocoxoxhitl (Dahlias),” “Nopal (Cactus),” and “Jacaranda” were published on Kelp Journal’s blog, The Wave. Kelp Journal also published her true horror story, “Hellhounds.” She was The Coachella Review’s Social Media Manager. Daniela received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California–Santa Barbara, where she received an honorable mention in the Kieth E. Vineyard Honorary Scholarship Short Story Contest.