Spoiler Warning and Content Warning: Brief mentions of grooming, sexual assault and toxic parental relationships.
Imagine you’ve inherited a haunted house: a mansion in northern Canada, passed down by your recently deceased uncle. There are wild blueberries out back, psychic neighbors around the bend and scenic lake views year-round. And even though it’s possessed, how could you resist the temptation to move in — especially if you lose your claim to it if you don’t? Because sure, ghosts are scary, but real life is so much worse. And this place seems like a welcome escape from all that.
This is the scenario Daisy, the teenage main character in Liselle Sambury’s thrilling yet heartfelt new supernatural horror novel “Delicious Monsters,” faces at the beginning of the story. When her mother, Grace, forces her to decide either to stay in Toronto, where the duo is struggling just to make ends meet, or to move into a free lakeside mansion in the country, the decision isn’t hard to make. Fleeing from her abusive ex-boyfriend, Daisy tells Grace to take them to Timmins, Ontario, and the new home that awaits them there.
But the house isn’t the only supernatural thing about this story — Daisy was born with the ability to see dead people, and the ghosts she’s grown used to seeing everywhere are suspiciously absent at the mansion. Her neighbors seem to know more about the building than they’ll admit, and Grace refuses to set foot in the house, insisting that Daisy stay away from it too. As the situation escalates, and it becomes clear that something is going on with the house, Daisy sets out to solve not just the mystery of the mansion, but of her secretive mother as well. Through this exploration of Grace’s character and Daisy’s relationship with her, “Delicious Monsters” transcends the typical YA horror genre and becomes something new; the book is an introspective, unexpected and refreshing take on horror and the real monsters we face day-to-day.
A second storyline later unfolds, which takes place 10 years later, following podcast host Brittney as she interviews members of the first storyline about the events that took place at the mansion after Daisy and Grace moved in. As Brittney discovers more about what was really going on 10 years ago, the similarities between herself and Daisy multiply, and she is unsure whether she can finish telling Daisy’s story or if her own will get in the way.
The contrast between Brittney and Daisy adds a level of complexity to the story and its exploration of parental relationships. While both of their mothers exhibit similar toxic behaviors, the key difference lies in the daughters’ reactions to and perspectives on their abuse. While Brittney remains closed off to the idea of having a healthy relationship with her mother in the future, Daisy learns to forgive her mother for some of the trauma she experienced as a child, which was itself a result of Grace’s own trauma. In this way, Sambury avoids painting abuse as black-and-white. Instead, she reminds readers that abuse, and our reactions to it, can come in many shapes and forms, and that all experiences and responses are valid.
While “Delicious Monsters” more than stands on its own as pure horror, at its heart is an emotional exploration of mother-daughter relationships and intergenerational trauma. Throughout the story, we observe the strained relationships between Daisy and Grace — and, to a lesser extent, Brittney and her mother — and how they have affected the daughters.
Grace, who had Daisy at 16, was never a traditional mother figure. She wasn’t neglectful, but, as Daisy frequently remarks, she was incredibly emotionally distant, sharing nothing about herself that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Grace’s secrets were always an issue in the relationship, but they have real-life consequences for Daisy when they move to the mansion. Because Grace won’t tell Daisy why she can’t go into the mansion, Daisy inevitably rebels and does just that. This initial rebellion leads to continued consequences for Daisy, such as suddenly losing great chunks of time or being physically attacked by violent hallucinations. It is finally revealed in the latter half of the book that Grace’s own trauma prevents her from entering the house.
“Delicious Monsters” is subtle and realistic in its portrayal of the effects of different kinds of abuse on individuals and their relationships, delivering scenes as emotionally moving as they are upsetting. In a moment of vulnerability, Daisy opens up to Grace about her 21-year-old boyfriend in Toronto and the things he made her do that she felt she couldn’t say no to. She admits earlier in the novel that she “let him decide where to go, who to hang out with, what to do. He chose it all.” When Daisy tells her mother about this relationship, on the verge of realizing just how truly abusive it was, Grace sees for the first time that withholding her own experiences led her daughter to having the same ones.
When Grace finally tells Daisy what happened to her that made her hate the house so much, Daisy observes how similar their stories truly are: “I knew what she meant when she said that it felt too late. When she said that she had let it happen before, so how could she say no later? But then it felt so wrong because she hadn’t let anything happen. It had happened to her. Like it had happened to me. It had happened to us.”
The reason Grace can’t go in the house isn’t because it’s haunted, but because it’s the place she was abused as a child. At this moment, we see the ripple effect of Grace’s childhood abuse on Daisy’s life and their relationship with one another. And while we can’t excuse all of Grace’s toxic behavior as a parent, this new understanding of her character feels earned, and answers why she is the way she is. Daisy and Grace’s relationship after this moment is by no means perfect — there are still years of baggage to unpack between them, after all — but there is a decisive shift in their relationship and appreciation for one another after learning these things about each other.
Just as Daisy has felt alone her entire life in her ability to see the dead, it can be just as isolating to keep experiences like hers and Grace’s holed-up inside — and, as is explored through Daisy and Grace’s relationship, doing so can have lasting consequences on those close to us as well. “Delicious Monsters” is so much more than just another YA horror story, and its “ghosts” are so much more than just ghouls — they are forgotten girls, family secrets and the painful truths we can’t admit to even ourselves. And it reminds us that just as the ghosts of the novel can become corporeal, sometimes our ghosts have a physical form, too — oftentimes the things that scare us the most aren’t dead people, but the ones that are still alive.
Daily Arts Writer Camille Nagy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.