Fitting In

Fitting In

A review of Lisi Harrison’s Monster High (Hachette Book Group, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Lisi Harrison’s Monster High is a series adapted from the doll brand by Mattel of the same name. Her novel adaptation, aimed at a teen rather than pre-teen audience as the dolls would suggest illustrates the adaptability of narratives around dolls and toys. Although Mattel is an American company, Harrison is Canadian. Harrison’s narrative takes a very different approach and storyline than Mattel’s other Monster High narratives such as the webbisodes and films of the same name. Yet, Harrison still explores some of the issues that are central to the rest of Mattel’s Monster High brand.

Rather than setting her story in a high school just for monsters as the Mattel brand does, Harrison sets her story in a high school predominantly filled with non-monster students. Monsters are a minority in this school and in the town surrounding it and have to pass as human to avoid discovery and discrimination by the much larger non-monster population. Harrison’s narrative follows Frankie Stein, the child of other Frankensteinian creations as she navigates a society with the optimism of someone who was only created 16 days before the novel begins. Frankie believes that humans are far more accepting and open than she discovers they actually are and when she attempts to go out in public without the makeup that makes her look human, she is met with discrimination for her green skin, stitches, and neck bolts.

Harrison provides a second narrator for her story, Melody, a girl whose parents reinforce certain notions of beauty through their role as plastic surgeons. In fact, Melody reluctantly had a nose job after her parents told her (falsely) that it would help her breathe better. Melody is worried that any friends she finds only like her because she now upholds the normative standards of beauty instead of looking different than the norm. She is drawn in to the world of monsters when her boyfriend turns out to be far different than what she expected.

Harrison uses the two characters, Frankie and Melody – the girl who is told to fit in because she is a monster and the girl who is worried that she only fits in because she is ‘normal’ – to explore difference in an environment that is the epitome of enforced normalcy – the high school. High schools are spaces where people are policed for any difference from norms and where most kids just want to fit in, and Harrison’s Monster High exaggerates that enforced fitting in by adding the ultimate outsiders – Monsters.

Harrison explores ideas of internalized isms by having Frankie constantly hide her heritage and bodily difference and instead to conform and try to blend in to her society. They force her to wear conservative clothing that allows her to blend into the background, to become unnoticed and become essentially invisible (though not as invisible as the school’s literal invisible boy Billy).

Despite her attempts to conform, the school and surrounding town of Salem still has an intense fear of outsiders and even has school drills for “what to do in case there is a monster sighting” with its own special alarm system.

Harrison’s Monster High is a tale of conformity, challenging expectations, and finding one’s place with friends who support diversity

To find out more about Lisi Harrison, visit

To discover more about Monster High, go to


Stitching Mary Shelley’s Text Into A New Body of Literature

Check out my review of Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

We Shall Be Monsters

Stitching Mary Shelley’s Text Into A New Body of Literature

A review of Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein (HarperCollins, 2011).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Since Mary Shelley’s publication of Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein has shaped the public imagination of the “mad scientist”. He is portrayed as an ambitious, driven man who is willing to do and to sacrifice anything to achieve his goals no matter what the consequences. He is willing to push the boundaries of scientific imagination… and also push the boundaries of morality. But how did his life shape who he became? What transformed him into that driven doctor who was willing to challenge even that great boundary – between life and death?

Kenneth Oppel’s “This Dark Endeavour” winds back the clock on Victor Frankenstein’s life, imagining an early life for the inventor. Oppel’s Frankenstein is an atheist who believes that all…

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Through Other Eyes

Here is my review of Barbara Gowdy’s “Little Sister”, a novel that explores the transferrance of consciousness from one woman to another during lightning storms.

Dis(abled) Embodiment

Through Other Eyes

A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.

Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when…

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My Schedule for Can Con 2017 (October 13-15)

My Schedule for Can Con 2017 
For those of you who are attending Can Con this weekend, here are some of the panels I will be speaking on:

Friday Evening


Homophobia and Monster Stories

Saturday Morning


Finding a Home for Your Queer Tales

Saturday Evening 


Queer Comics

Saturday Evening


Spooning With Spoonies: Sexuality and Disability

Sunday Afternoon


Myths You Maybe Haven’t Heard Of

And I will be doing an author reading in the Renaissance Press reading session 

Sunday Morning


I look forward to seeing and chatting with many of you at Can Con. 

A Call for Research

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille



Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” explores the role of science in humanity’s engagement with our ecology. Schofield brings attention to the way that capitalism is constantly placed ahead of ecological research, pointing out that we endanger the planet further by devoting government resources to areas that we think will be more profitable and provide short term benefits rather than long term research that could develop solutions to ecological problems.


Schofield’s tale centres on a scientist named Gurpreet who keeps getting shuffled from department to department while she tries to create solutions for humanity’s current eco crisis and food security issues. Changes in the gulf stream have meant that Canada has become a frozen wasteland where growing seasons are uncertain and always incredibly short. Gurpreet has to deal with misogyny from her male coworkers as well as corruption in funding models that takes money away from viable food production and funnels it into popular, but under-researched methods of producing food, even though these methods will likely have longer term ecological repercussions.


Schofield’s tale is timed at a critical moment when we see a conflict between scientists in the United States and a government that doesn’t want to change its ecological policies. Her tale is a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in long term scientific research and stop having stop-gap methods that cause further ecological danger.


To find out more about Holly Schofield, visit

To discover more about Cli Fi and other Exile books, visit


Water is Magic

A review of Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Fiction (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille


In “The Way of Water”, Nina Munteanu pens her love letter to water, exulting it as a liquid that has semi-magical properties. Munteanu recognizes the chimerical quality of water, its unique ability to shift and change, to purify and taint, and the incredible way that it makes up most of our body mass and therefore shapes us as well.

A limnologist (lake ecosystem biologist) by trade, Munteanu recognizes the incredible way that water shapes life and brings attention to the fact that water connects us to each other just as water connects with other water, forming bonds. She evokes in the reader a sense of reverence for water and an awareness that the same water that flows through our bodies have flowed through the bodies of our ancestors, cycling through life since the first life forms coalesced.

In recognizing the preciousness of water, she also recognizes its precarity and the danger that capitalist systems pose when they lay claim to water and seek to own it. “The Way of Water” evokes a sense of awareness about issues of access to water and about the dangers of imbalances in that access.

You can discover more about Nina Munteanu’s work at

To find out more about Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Fiction, visit Exile’s website at

Persistence of Memory

A Review of M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia (Anchor Canada, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

vassanji nostalgia

Memory is powerful and it can be fleeting, but M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia is a tale of memory’s ability to persist. Vassanji writes a near future fiction story in which immortality has been achieved, but in this future, everyone who undergoes rejuvination (the age reversal process) simultaneously has the memories of their past life erased for the new life as a younger person. But, memories are hard to erase and occasionally these memories resurface. These memories are pathologized in this world and are considered a medical disease colloquially called “nostalgia”. Vassanji creates a world that fears its past, that tries for an eternal present.


Vassanji invites us into the political questions raised by technology. He invites us to explore what would happen in a world that had a “cure” for ageing. Rejuvenation creates a series of social divides: between the aged and the young, the rich and the poor, and between medical ideas and religious. The young feel as though they are not able to make their place in the world because of the proliferance of older people being returned to youth. They engage in protests with slogans like “Let them go! The Earth for the Young! Let the Fogeys Die!”, viewing the aged as getting in the way of young people. Only the most wealthy can afford rejuvenation and those who undergo it keep generating further wealth, creating a greater wealth disparity bet the rich and the poor. The poor are often also the disenfranchised young, who are unable to get jobs in a world where all of the best positions are already occupied. They perceive of the older generation as needing to make way for the new generations. Yet the young are not the only ones to feel detached from their lives. Many of the ‘rejuvies’ feel a sense of disconnect in their lives, a sense of detachment and not fitting in.


Memory in Nostalgia is shaped by medical discourse, constructed as a danger to people’s current identities, which are authored by medical doctors who give people a new background for their new lives after rejuvenation, lives changed from the ones they are seeking to forget. The lives of the rejuvies are authored, constructed, and artificial, a veneer over a personality that has been suppressed to create the new rejuvenated self. These past lives are a threat in this medical discourse, dangerously causing a collision of personalities in the rejuvenated person. They call it “Leaked Memory Syndrome” (LMS). Yet, religious systems also engage with ideas of past lives, and religious groups have perspectives on what happens after death. They protest the damage being done spiritually through the proliferation of rejuvenated people.


Vassanji brings critical attention to these clashes between groups by putting us into the perspective of a doctor who deals with constructing identities for people undergoing rejuvenation, with a specialty in treating case of LMS or nostalgia, Dr. Frank Sina. Sina’s beliefs are deeply embedded in him, making him a firm believer in the mastry afforded by science, an almost zealous believer in the power of the medicine to cure the world’s ills. But even Sina’s beliefs can be challenged and they shift when he meets a man, Presley Smith, whose LMD memories seem to resonate with him and lead to his obsession with this man’s past.


This is a world divided not just by rejuvenation, but also by other political systems, where the wealthy parts of the world are walled off from the poorer parts of the world. This is a world where the memory constructing ability of rejuvination provides the perfect systems of assimilation for those from other countries, rewriting people’s pasts – their politics, their ideologies, and their belief systems to turn them into ‘perfect citizens’. Vissanji writes a narrative of totalitarian power and the power of memory in a political system for preventing erasure.


To discover more about Nostalgia, visit

To discover more about the works of M.G. Vassanji, visit