Reviewed by McKenzie Knight

Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda, Translated by Sarah Booker, Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2022, 258 pages, $16.95

Mónica Ojeda’s Jawbone is the book that hides in the dark corners of your room, waiting for you to sleep so it can wake you up with its stomach-turning imagery and detailed descriptions. It’s disturbing but still thought-provoking and makes readers confront the absurd.

Ojeda, an Ecuadorian author, came out with Jawbone in January 2018. It was initially written in Spanish, republished by Coffee House Press, and translated by Sarah Booker. Ojeda is published in various genres: short stories, novels, and poetry collections.

Jawbone follows a young girl with a fascination for the eerie, the horrific, and the creepy. She’s interested in internet ‘creepypastas.’ The book opens with her being kidnapped by her English literature teacher. It was an exciting beginning to the novel, mainly because I was genuinely curious about what led a teacher to kidnap a student. And, to make things more intriguing, the teacher’s behaviors were somewhat erratic to me; they seemed to have no rhyme or reason, making me want to continue reading.

I generally don’t find myself reading within the horror genre, though I enjoy a good thriller when the occasion calls for it. I can’t say that I expected Jawbone to be written in the way that it was. I think I was waiting for a more teenage voice or tone, maybe something more laid back or just generally daft due to the main character’s interests. But, regardless, going into reading this, I knew it would mess with my mind; the cover itself is eerie and uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine a better setting of the scene for what’s to follow within the novel.

One of the best parts of Jawbone is Ojeda’s creation of a dreamlike world; I sometimes questioned if its events were even possible. Ojeda knows how to play with language to craft a work in which the reader is unsure of what the nature of the world is. Anything can happen, and nothing is as it seems. I was uncertain and had extreme unease throughout its entirety, but it made the book so very impactful.

I would say the highlight of the novel was the characters. They’re so intricately written, and their personalities jump off the page. They feel real. Ojeda excellently portrays their inner wars and emotional depth. The characters contribute to Ojeda’s discussion of fear, and how it drives us and influences our lives in so many ways.

With that said, Jawbone is not for everyone. It has graphic depictions of violence and sexual content that could trigger or disturb certain readers. However, there is a purpose to this violence beyond mere shock value. By forcing readers to confront the reality of violence and its consequences, Ojeda underscores the brutal nature of human existence and how we can inflict harm on one another. Unfortunately, this could also make it difficult for select readers to connect with the novel.

If you’re willing to immerse yourself in the universe Ojeda creates and its darker themes, check out Jawbone; it’ll stay with you long after you finish reading it.