Recently, it feels as if I don’t have the energy to read anything that’s high commitment, which mostly means I’m not reading a lot of huge, dense fantasy novels. I’ve begun listening to more audiobooks while I draw, consuming massive amounts of fanfiction and Webtoons, getting swept away by swoony romances, and also turning to things like short stories.
And boy, short stories are more of a godsend than I imagined. I’ve never been hugely into them, but I’m rapidly realizing the appeal. The short-length makes it easy to tempt myself into doing work (if I finish four homework problems, I can read another story) and the inherent haste of developing the characters and world makes it much more engaging than a lot of longer forms of fiction.
I’m definitely hugely attracted by super character-based and voice-y stories, stuff that plays around with weird points of view and abnormal narrative formats that are much harder to find in longer fiction.
And so, I come bearing my thoughts on two short story collections I’ve read in the past month—Prelude by Grace Kwan and Foreshadow edited by Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma.
Prelude & Other Short Stories by Grace Kwan
Prelude & Other Short Stories was a lovely collection of short stories about a bisexual Chinese-Malaysian girl who moves from Kuala Lumpur to Vancouver when she is young. It ranges from quick, delightful stories you breeze through to more serious explorations of the narrator’s life.
They’re super brief, but extremely engaging, and sitting down with one story makes you want to devour the rest in one go. Kwan cycles through various stages of the narrator’s life, from being a young child to an adult, not necessarily linearly, and throughout it all pulling you in with the clear voice that you feel connected to, regardless of age.
Each story leaves you wondering how much is real and how much is fiction, and it all resonates regardless. From stressful memories surrounding piano practice to lip-biting situations of discussing queerness, Prelude crafts a memory-like collection that’s sometimes hazy, but sometimes startlingly stark in how sharp certain details are.
If you want a personal and quick collection of vignettes that are rooted in experience and character, I’d highly recommend checking out Prelude & Other Short Stories.
Content Warnings: eating disorders, complicated parental relationship (throws a shoe at daughter), anti-immigrant sentiments, racism, homophobia
Foreshadow is a young adult anthology that’s present in its full form at foreshadowya.com, and an abbreviated form with 13 stories from new YA voices in the recently published Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA.
The published form is more than just 13 short stories however. It also provides writing advice through analyzing the stories present, prompts to get your writers’ brain working, and short blurbs by renowned YA authors at the beginning of each short story.
For anyone who’s interested in writing, the craft elements will certainly appeal.
I was more focused on the stories, and in this regard, the collection took me through so many different paths with voices I can’t wait to hear more from. From a voice-heavy short about a girl that’s a lobster (she just is, okay?) to a serendipitous romance told through moments at high school parties to a fantasy island with a meddling half-demon and a girl without a heart, the range of Foreshadow is wide, and I ended up reviewing each short individually.
Overall, I had a positive experience, and although I loved some shorts more than others, I was mostly satisfied with the overall arrangement, save for a few quibbles (Glow should have been placed somewhere that led up to it better; I felt like it was a little too heavy on the contemporary with magical elements nature, and I wanted more sci-fi and fantasy). So, here are my thoughts on the individual stories!
Flight by Tanya Aydelott
Mysterious and almost dream-like, Flight draws you along with the main character in a fairytale-esque story about transformations and grappling with the skin you live in. It’s a story about agency and will, as well as examining yourself in light of experiences you’ve had with others. With its mother-daughter relationship examination and heart-wrenching depictions of the different faces we can have, Flight is an ethereal introduction to the anthology.
Risk by Rachel Hylton
Risk is weird in the best way possible, steeped in voice and character, in group dynamics and the idea of appearances. Definitely a memorable story, it takes on a Metamorphosis-style premise, but with high school girls and a complex and inside look of the girls at themselves (also lobsters). This framing in addition to the engaging and at times humorous voice of the collective-girls-narrator made Risk extremely compelling, and one of my favorites of the anthology.
Content Warnings: bullying, underage drinking
Sweetmeats by Linda Cheng
Sweetmeats not only weaves a complex mother-daughter relationship into a story of trauma and ostracization, but it also deeply contrasts the narrator, Mei, against her best friend Marlie through how they engage with the world after what they experienced. The speculative Hansel and Gretel-like experience sets Sweetmeats up for its dark atmosphere and striking framing between the girls and the world, and between the girls themselves.
Content Warnings: traumatic Hansel-and-Gretel like experience, dead rabbit, violence & gore & murder
Glow by Joanna Truman
Glow took a while to get into, and I wholeheartedly believe that part of it is because of how the short stories are arranged. I had just read three speculative, fairytale-like stories from non-traditional points of view, and then transitioned into Glow. Which is definitely still speculative, but much more subtle and without drawing on a tradition of fairytales like the previous stories did. I wish that it was placed in the anthology differently or that my expectations were appropriate for the story, because I feel like I missed out by looking for something that Glow isn’t.
Glow is a story about unbelievable power, the type you have to suspend your disbelief for, that is held in check partly by queer love. It’s beautiful and centered in its yearning, in that holding-your-breath feeling for when the dam will break.
Escape by Tanvi Berwah
Some of the best thrillers are ones in which you know what’s coming, but you are excited for it to happen anyways. Escape is one of those stories, where it builds and builds, dropping snippets along the way like breadcrumbs, preparing you for the deep satisfaction you feel when your outcome happens. Escape weaves history and tradition with a big, bustling modern family of women who are connected to a mysterious pouchette.
Content Warnings: cheating
Pan Dulce by Flor Salcedo
Not only did Pan Dulce make me hungry for, well, pan dulce! But it also immersed me in what it was like being an El Paso teen in 1998, crossing the border to party and feeling invincible while you do it. Without any speculative elements, Pan Dulce may be easy for some to look over in the anthology, but if you actually look, you’ll find a contemplative moment in Rosa’s life where Rosa grapples with her own fears—both of external forces, and of things like friendship dynamics and family expectations.
Content Warnings: guns (mentioned, not used), border patrol, femicide (mentioned), underage drinking
Solace by Nora Elghazzawi
Solace is aching and a little melancholy. It is like the garden Laila cultivates in the dead of winter, maybe struggling now, but still with hope and a lone rose. It’s a story about healing and moving on and letting yourself fully embrace your hopes and dreams. I loved the quiet, gentle nature of the moment that Elghazzawi chooses to show us—that even though Laila has so many experiences, this is the moment we get to see, in all its honesty.
Content Warnings: eating disorder, loss of a young family member
Princess by Maya Prasad
In less than 20 pages, Prasad manages to craft a sprawling, futuristic space-opera-esque world. A story with high stakes and even greater imaginations. It grapples with the idea of artificial intelligence and human, of creation and algorithms, of greater good and individual pursuit. Princess is bright and glittering and dazzles the reader while they follow along with Leela and the choices she has to make.
Content Warnings: terminal illness, surgery, martyrdom
Fools by Gina Chen
Fools will tickle the fancy of any fantasy romance lovers and people who love Howl’s Moving Castle. A delightful fantasy short that leaves you craving so much more, Chen crafts a lovely story of Fanny, a practical girl who (1) doesn’t have a heart and (2) secretly craves to explore the world, and Dimen, the playful, charming half-demon who visits her home-slash-boarding-school-for-unusual-girls. There’s a delightful integration of Chinese culture (the first word in the story is Ahma!) and Western storytelling within this small story that takes place in a very big world.
Monsters by Adriana Marachlian
Monsters pulls you in, a story about a girl, in New York City instead of Venezuela, who sees monsters. The horror elements are like snares, tugging at you with the mysterious strangers and the references to an incident. The way Monsters forces us to grapple with how different we are from the monsters of the story makes it an intriguing read.
Content Warnings: gore & death
Break by Sophie Meridien
Break was absolutely adorable, and I am left craving much, much more from Meridien. A perfect sequence of high-school-party set vignettes (feat. spin the bottle) that lead to a sweet romance, I was absolutely hooked. The reader is expertly caught into the joys of Kikade’s crush on Jin-ho, but also her very real reservations of him being friends with a racist guy she can’t stand. Meridien crafts a layered character with strict parents, culinary dreams, and a feeling of not quite fitting in that lends itself to a delightful and cute romance.
Content Warnings: underage drinking (very minor)
Resilient by Mayra Cuevas
A story of yes, resilience, but also displacement after a crisis, Resilient tells the story of a Marisol and her cousin Rosita who ended up moving to South Dakota after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Cuevas does a wonderful job of building up Marisol’s hopes and dreams—to travel South America and go to college—and also does a skillful job of portraying the desolate coldness of their temporary job at the turkey processing plant. It’s a stark contrast, and the imagery used throughout, a palmera in the wind, acts as a beacon of hope through the hopelessness.
Belly by Desiree S. Evans
The tradition of storytelling is so distinct in Belly, and it crafts a centuries old narrative of attempted community destruction & land theft. Jaima’s story is not only a story of wildness, the river living inside her belly, but also one of latent power and how connected she is to her home. The symbolism and use of the river as a character, unpredictable, ties Belly together into a powerful conclusion to the anthology.
Content Warnings: sexual harassment
Do you have any favorite anthologies you’d recommend?