The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell, illus. by Adam de Souza

This delightful book, I’m pretty sure, came from another Shelf review. Jen Campbell teases her reader, in a brief foreword, with a playfully sinister tone; she notes that “brilliant, horrible tales” once “known far and wide” have somehow been replaced with “‘happily ever afters’ where nothing really awful happened and, well, a lot of them became boring.” She wants to restore the gruesome; thus this book, which offers fourteen tales from around the world (each presented with its country of origin), adapted and tweaked by Campbell. They are indeed deliciously gruesome, and complemented by Adam de Souza’s illustrations, which nod to each story’s cultural origin. I really liked this intersection of fairy tales, traditional storytelling, modern twists, and horror. Campbell’s afterword neatly bookends the collection with a cozier tone, now that we’ve gotten to know each other and all.

The title story is Korean, and straight horrifying. “The House That Was Filled With Ghosts” (Japan) I enjoyed for its victorious ending (bit of a ‘happily ever after’ here, Campbell!). “The Adults Who Lost Their Organs” (Germany) reminds me of a story I knew as a child but cannot name now… “The Man Who Hunted Children” (South Africa) is I think the “Hansel and Gretel” reference. “The Wife Who Could Remove Her Head” (El Salvador) had a refreshing outcome for the rebellious wife; likewise a bit of justice in India’s “The Son of Seven Mothers.” But my absolute favorite was definitely the final story, from Spain: “The Woman and the Glass Mountain.” There are book lovers, adventures, a wedding in a library, triumphant women, and queer love. I am smitten with this story and this whole book, and will put it in the growing pile of fairy tales & folktales that are somewhat simultaneously creepy and weirdly comforting. What a treat. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys tracking storytelling in human history and across cultures, or fairy tales and their origins, or spookiness in general. Good times.


Rating: 8 fingers.

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