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 https://lisiharrison.com

To discover more about Monster High, go to https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/lisi-harrison/monster-high/9780316176217/

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The Secret Guide to Keeping Supernatural Secrets

A review of Sierra Dean’s The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters (Samhain Publishing Ltd., 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Named “Secret” and a person at the crossroads of many secrets, Secret McQueen is a bounty hunter you will enjoy.  Secret is a hybridised half vampire, half werewolf and treated as a second class citizen by the vampires she works for due to only sharing half of her identity with them. She would be treated even worse if they knew that the other half was not human, but the creature that vampires view as totally loathsome – the werewolf. In a world where vampires and werewolves are hidden from the public, Secret stands at the bridge between two hidden groups, blanketed in human disbelief for the supernatural. In order to keep the existence of the supernatural from humanity, Secret has become a bounty hunter for the vampires, suppressing any risks of exposure. She is a guardian and gatekeeper of whispered supernatural truths.

Secret’s human friend Mercedes has been able to find out about her werewolf side, but has an intense hatred for vampires, whose existence she has discovered. Her intolerance forced Secret to repress and suppress her vampiric side around one of her few friends.

In The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters, Sierra Dean deals with issues of being an inter-racial person, abstracting the social pressures encountered by inter-racial people onto the inter-monstrous figure of Secret McQueen. Like many inter-racial people, she is trapped between her identities, suspended in a place of intolerance by both sides where she is forced to find her own identity, and often hide aspects of herself. If the racist vampire council knew about her werewolf side, she would experience further workplace discrimination (which she is already experiencing for being only half vampire). She is constantly forced to “pass”, to pretend to be fully something that she is not  – whether it be human, werewolf, or vampire. She is trapped in a constant need to pretend, to act, and to only express parts of her dual heritage.

Secret finds she has difficulty finding dates since she can never be totally honest with a lover, always having to hide some part of her identity from groups intolerant toward inter-racial people. She even notes at the start of the narrative “As a general rule, people don’t like to date monsters”, opening the story to the challenges involved in having to play something one is not.

The theme of playing identity, and performing identity is further expressed by the person Secret is sent to hunt, an actor who plays vampire roles in Hollywood movies… who happens to actually BE a vampire. Here is a character who is playing an actor playing himself, a lie trapped inside a truth. The actions of this vampire, abusing his power to control women and using his vampiric gaze to take away the decision-making abilities of the women he tries to seduce, he risks exposing the secrets of the vampiric world in addition to taking away the identity and selfhood of his victims. Secret has to suppress the risk of exposure posed by this vampire, but she takes a secret pleasure in doing so because slaying this vampire would do society as a whole a favour.

You can explore Sierra Dean’s work on her website at http://www.sierradean.com/ . You can purchase The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters in ebook format from Amazon, iTunes, or Kobo or by visiting the Samhain Publishing website at http://store.samhainpublishing.com/sierra-dean-pa-1639.html