cover image When Mystical Creatures Attack!

When Mystical Creatures Attack!

Kathleen Founds. Univ. of Iowa, $16 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-60938-283-4

Told through high school class assignments, letters, emails, private journal entries, school literary magazine submissions, advice column blog posts, and psychiatric wellness reports, the 25 linked stories in this debut collection beautifully sketch the lives of residents of a small South Texas town. Chief among them is Laura Freedman, a 23-year-old high school English teacher struggling with mental illness and her failure to “heal and transform” her students, and her student Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with... an antiauthoritarian complex” who becomes Laura’s correspondent and confidante. Writing with compassion that never curdles into pity, Founds follows the lives of this pair for a decade, as Laura hits bottom and rebounds from incarceration in a New Age-y sanitarium, and the unmarried Janice gets pregnant and becomes addicted to painkillers. The author captures the emotional turmoil of her characters through arresting imagery—“I imagine myself sticking my hand in my ribcage, pulling out shards of colored glass,” writes Laura—and offsets the darkness of their experiences with amusing scenes in which they banter with one another and ponder the absurdity of their predicaments. Founds’s stories are punctuated with marvelous moments of humor and pathos, and no matter the narrative form they take, they uniformly reveal vividly realized characters with complex inner lives. (Oct.)