Back and Deader than Ever Monster High 4 by Lisi Harrison

Back and deader than ever cover

a review by Evie Kendal

What does one read on Friday the 13th but the next instalment of Monster High? Picking up just after the last novel left off, Back and Deader than Ever deals with the repercussions of Clawdeen’s sassy sixteenth birthday party from Where There’s a Wolf, There’s a Way, in which the existence of the paranormal RADs (regular attribute dodgers) was exposed to the “normie” population of Salem. The results are seen to be wide acceptance of the RADs, and at the beginning of book four a new inclusive educational program is being taught at Merston High School aimed at fostering tolerance and celebrating diversity. Some of the RADs’ unique characteristics have even become fashion icons – so when a major sports company merges with a French fashion label and stages a competition for the most diverse school community to represent their new brand, Merston student and vampire, Lala, thinks they have a real chance! She is also desperate to win the contest to impress her father Mr D, the leader of the RAD community in Salem, who has spent almost her entire 1599-year adolescence away for work.

While Lala works on writing her competition entry, couples compete to represent the school as Merston’s “It Couple.” However, as the drama of the popularity contest unfolds, the RADs learn that now they are “out” Lala’s father is building a RAD-only private school they will all be expected to attend the next semester. It soon becomes clear that while the students in Salem have embraced the tolerance and diversity message, the adults are lagging behind, still advocating for segregation. After some heated arguments, Mr D agrees to retract the mandatory transfers for all RAD students currently enrolled at Merston – but only if Lala wins the competition. With a lot more at stake now than a title and a lucrative advertising opportunity, Lala’s campaign is suddenly plagued by disasters, providing much of the plot of this novel.

Like the earlier Monster High novels, this book contains a lot of brand name product placement, with shopping described as an “all-you-can-afford buffet,” by Frankie Stein, granddaughter of Frankenstein and former political activist turned shopaholic. Facebook and SMS etiquette are also major concerns, with friendships being lost over which person has the most digital friends. The characters from all the previous novels are present, however the family of werewolves that were the main focus of Monster High #3 are only very minor players in this novel. Though most characters are written quite well, I must confess as an Australian the token “Aussie” RAD was painful to read. The following quote is one example that made me cringe:

“We we’re s’posed to have this bonzer barbie at the end, right? Only Pops got lost. So there we were, ten screaming sheilas in the middle of the bush. And everything’s goin’ wrong. We’re crossing this billabong, and the crocs are pulling out left and right. Mum forgets the eskie, so we don’t have any grub. Then we spot this reservoir and hop in to cool off. Only it’s snapping with biting prawns. Even Pops was yellin’ like a kookaburra… Finally, this fat joey hops by and gets me thinking. Judging from the size of that bugger’s belly, he knows where the barbie is. So we followed him. And ended up at the Outback Golf Club, where it was meat pies and iced sammies for everyone.”

Given the huge focus on cross-cultural communication in this young adult series I found this character’s speech quite jarring, and a little patronising. However, Harrison does get points for spelling “Mum” as an Australian would! Apart from this rather stereotypical profile, the other characters are mostly just a bit shallow, which although likely to alienate an older readership could still appeal to a young teen audience.

The resolution of the father-daughter relationship angst between Lala and Mr D in this instalment is very satisfying. However, the Jackson-Melody romantic storyline is somewhat problematic. Melody is a siren who loves to sing and is recruited into a rock band during the story, however her new band commitments take her away from her boyfriend, Jackson, and threaten their Summer holiday plans. Jackson, whose split Jekyll/Hyde personality manifests as the character D.J. whenever he gets overheated, witnesses Melody’s romantic entanglement with another RAD connected to her new band, and becomes increasingly upset throughout the story when she continually prioritises her music over him. While I do not wish to spoil how the relationship issues are resolved in the narrative, suffice it to say the resolution has some negative connotations. There is also a failure to address Melody’s abusive treatment of Jackson when she “accidentally” uses her siren powers of persuasion to win an argument and force him into supporting her decisions. (To balance this oversight there is a brilliant scene in which an older male character is turned into stone after behaving in a rather lecherous manner towards some of the high school girls!)

As with the previous novel, my recommendation regarding Back and Deader than Ever is that it is only really pitched to a young teen audience, and a mostly female one at that. Some of the messages contained in it are a little problematic, particularly the focus on physical appearances and consumer culture, however the ideals of tolerance are shown well. Overall I believe the positive aspects outweigh the negative, many of which are just a bit frivolous but mostly harmless. In future instalments I hope to see more development of the invisible Billy and Spectra’s relationship, as well as following Lala’s romantic involvement with the werewolf, Clawd.