In October we celebrate the last two weeks of Latinx Heritage Month, Dia de Muertos, and the fall season. While this is undoubtedly the season of scary movies, fun costumes, and visiting the pumpkin patch, it’s also the perfect time to dive into some horror and magical realist stories written by Latinx authors. Magical realism is a genre that was seen in art and popularized in literature throughout Latin America in the1950s through writers including Cuban poet Jose Martí, Chilean writer Isabel Allende, and Nicaraguan poet Ruben Darío. Essentially magical realism features magical elements set in a realistic environment, a fusion of fantasy and realistic storytelling (e.g. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Allende’s The House of the Spirits). Not to mention that many cultures in LATAM believe in spirits, ghosts, and the power of curanderas, or healers. Our stories deserve to be told, even when they’re scary or delving into the unseen and unknown.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good reference for hardcore horror and magical realism fans, and for newcomers to these kinds of stories. There’s a book in here for every age and reader, including short story collections, novels, and poetry. Read on to learn more about 13 books by Latinx authors that will hopefully frighten, mystify, and delight you, and make you ready for the spooky season.
Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal
Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal is a young adult novel following five friends brought together by a curse, by fate, and by retribution. At the center of it all is Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre, reluctant friends turned detectives trying to solve the series of murders that have been haunting Puerto Rico. But just when they think they know what they’re up against, they realize that they must let go of their reality and turn to myths, legends, and stories if they hope to stop the killer, uncover their identity, and bring peace back to the island. For adult fans of Cardinal, be sure to also check out her debut adult novel, The Storyteller’s Death, for even more magical realist adventures.
Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado is her haunting debut short story collection that uses elements of psychological realism, science fiction, comedy, horror, fantasy, and fabulism to tell strange, startling, and beautiful stories. Featuring ghosts, wives with green ribbons tied around their necks, horrifying discoveries at a mall dress shop, and more, this collection centers women with boldness and otherworldly intensity. The suffering and violence they endure every day against their bodies and livelihoods is put on display in worlds different from our own, making it powerful to read and impossible to look away from.
Lotería by Cynthia Pelayo
In the mood for even more short story collections? Look no further than Lotería by Cynthia Pelayo, based on the traditional Mexican bingo game of the same name. To play, players must match up the images on the 54 cards with the images on their board, either getting every space or completing a numbered series in a row using game pieces, commonly uncooked beans. This classic game is given new life in Pelayo’s book, where each card is matched with a story based on a myth, folklore, fairy tale, horror story, superstition, or belief from LATAM. From ghosts to goblins, vampires to werewolves, murderers to creatures without names, this is a book that will haunt you long after you reach the last page.
Certain Dark Things by Silva Moreno-Garcia
Mexican-Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been the queen of horror, fantasy, and magical realism for many years, beginning with one of her first novels, Certain Dark Things. Including elements of the paranormal and neo-noir, this fresh take on the classic vampire story begins in Mexico City, which has become hub for vampires the world over. Everything changes for Domingo, a kid who collects garbage from the street for a living, when he meets Atl, a vampire and descendent of Aztec blood drinkers. Determined to escape the city safely out of reach of a rival vampire clan hunting her down, Atl nonetheless finds herself drawn to Domingo, even as everything seeks to stand between them and change their respective fates forever.
Mexican Gothic by Silva Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada’s journey in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s highly acclaimed novel Mexican Gothic is one that will stay with you even after the ending. After she receives a letter from her cousin claiming her husband is trying to kill her, she heads to her family’s house in the Mexican countryside to provide protection and seek answers—only to ask more questions than she had when she arrived. Faced with mysterious relatives, curanderas, mystical herbs, and a huge generational secret, the socialite is determined to save her cousin’s life and uncover the truth of what’s really happening to her—even if Noemí herself may not survive.
The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring
The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring follows Mavi, a young woman from Buenos Aires who loses her mother to her city’s military regime and flees to an elite finishing school at the very tip of Argentina. There, she begins a new life as a teacher but cannot ignore the strange warnings and happenings occurring around the school, or the legend that says the land the school sits on will curse all those who claim it. Everything changes when one of her students goes missing, causing a chain reaction of possessions, unseen forces, spirits, and secrets—one of which may threaten Mavi’s life.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is Zoraida Córdova’s debut adult fiction novel following the family of Orquídea Divina, a woman with magical abilities who passes on a different power to each of her descendants. At the center is her granddaughter Marimar as she travels to her family’s home country of Ecuador after Orquídea dies to piece together who her grandmother really was—and what Marimar herself could be. Exploring generational trauma, powerful women, bloodlines, and the magic of the past and contemporary worlds, this is a beautifully written novel guaranteed to keep you spellbound.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Dedicated to diversity in children’s literature, author Anna-Marie McLemore has become known for their fantasy and magical realism books centering Latinx LGBTQIA+ characters. In When the Moon was Ours, best friends Miel and Sam live a small town, fairy tale life—at least on the surface. Miel grows roses out of her wrist, which change color depending on the circumstance and her mood, while Sam paints moons and hangs them in the nearby trees. But when Miel’s magic roses attract the attention of the Bonner girls, their neighbors and sisters who everyone believes to dabble in witchcraft and who wants Miel’s roses for their taking, suddenly everything in their lives is put at risk. Not just their families, friendships, and powers, but their secrets too, one that may change Sam’s life forever.
Tender Is The Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
If you’re looking for an eerie, unsettling read, look no further than Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. The story follows Marcos, an employee at a local meat processing plant. Except it’s not just any meat he’s working with or making a living off of. After a virus made animal meat poisonous for people to consume, governments all over the world legalized the consumption of human meat, otherwise known as “special meat.” Marcos’s work of killing people for food haunts him, though he tries to keep his mind on his job like any other. But when he’s given a live specimen to process, he can’t help his inherent humanity and begins to treat her like a real person, changing everything he thought he knew about empathy, greed, and power.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson is the perfect book for the teen in your life. The story follows Mica Flores, a tough, body positive teenage Wiccan who arms herself with a biting attitude and an equally loyal best friend Riley as they attend Fairmont Academy. But when Riley and two classmates from their school die suddenly and suspiciously, the general consensus is that they killed themselves in a planned suicide pact. Refusing to believe it, Mila starts a murder investigation of her own, starting with bringing the girls back to life using some lip gloss and a spell from her grimoire. But there’s a catch—they only have seven days to figure out how the girls died, catch the killer, and work together as the most unlikely undead girl gang the world has yet to see.
Song of the Water Saints by Nelly Rosario
Song of the Water Saints is Nelly Rosario’s debut novel, telling the story of three generations of women in a Dominican family: Graciela, Mercedes, and Leila. The book covers a lot of ground including growing up during U.S. occupation of DR and owning a business during an oppressive dictatorship. It also covers navigating two cultures and an identity that doesn’t seem to fit in either powerfully capturing the struggles, joys, passions, and dreams of women that have been silenced for far too long. They may fight, start emotional fires, and face unknown dangers but they carry one another’s strength in their bloodline, the will to survive, and the magic only a woman could wield.
Soledad by Angie Cruz
Before Angie Cruz became known for her critically acclaimed novel Dominicana, she first published Soledad, the story of the eponymous character as she navigates a complicated relationship with her home and her life as her mother’s daughter. Two years after she leaves home and trades Washington Heights for the East Village in NYC, she is summoned to return to her family after her mother falls into a coma. Soledad is told only her return can heal her mother but first she much do the unthinkable and conquer the ghosts of the past and fix the damaged emotional bridge between the two women. Exploring family, culture, loss, grief, and mythos, this is a mother-daughter story unlike any other.
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
Melissa Lozada Olivia’s novel-in-verse Dreaming of You is the most beautiful love letter to Selena fans all over the world. The story follows a fictional version of Melissa as she brings Selena back to life with witchcraft, a USB drive, string, period blood, several sprays of Fabuloso, and other cultural references as ingredients. From there, the reincarnated Selena slowly learns to speak again, make music, and live on her own, all told with chaos and humor. Toeing the line between horror and magical realism, this will undoubtedly frighten as it will bring back memories and inspire joy.