a review by Evie Kendal
Monster High is a teen fiction series about a community of “monsters” trying to live in the human world and is told from the perspective of various teenagers attending the local Merston High School. The third book of the series is set after the release of a television program exposing the existence of these non-human beings and their subsequent flight into hiding.
While the story is narrated in the third person it adopts the point of view of several different teens, including Clawdeen Wolf (a werewolf as the name suggests), Frankie Stein (a laboratory creation whose life is sustained through electricity), Billy Phaidin (an invisible boy) and Melody Carver (who comes to doubt her “normie” status when she discovers her human parents adopted her). Each chapter is introduced with a cartoon figure of the character whose story is being told, with the overall narrative being focused on the conflict between the generations, with parents wanting to stay in hiding while their children want to fight for equal rights with humans. The book series is closely connected to the television series of the same name.
Monster High is written very pointedly at a young teen audience, and contains a lot of pop culture references, teeny-bopper language and entire pages devoted to iPhone conversations. Apple products, Lady Gaga, make-up, designer shoes, modelling for teen magazines, and blogging are all central themes in the text. While all the characters are interesting, Clawdeen’s story seems to dominate this instalment as she fights against the over-protectiveness of her parents and brothers for the right to go ahead with her “sassy sixteenth” birthday party. Importantly, Clawdeen sees no benefit to being “sweet” and rails against the sexism and racism that she is subjected to as a female werewolf. Like the other teen monsters her plight is for independence and the freedom to be herself and not have to hide.
While Billy and Frankie’s stories are mostly about unrequited high school love, Melody’s is about finding out her true parentage and whether she too is a RAD (regular attribute dodger). What all four characters have in common though is the curse of not fitting in at high school and facing discrimination for being different. As such, the series provides an insight into the difficulties facing high school students from minority groups, including those from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds and homosexual students. Without making direct reference to either of these groups, Harrison’s books nevertheless succeed in spreading a message of tolerance, and the end of Where There’s a Wolf, There’s a Way is uplifting in its depiction of RADs finally coming “out” to their “normie” friends.
On the surface Monster High is just some light-hearted fun, showing what our beloved horror icons would have been like as teenagers. A young werewolf who has to shave her legs constantly, a vampire who can’t put her lipstick on straight because she has no reflection, and the child of the Frankenstein monster and his bride who disguises her portable amp machine as a Chanel handbag – they are all amusing side stories. However, despite the cutesy language and over-the-top teen angst, the series also has a serious message.
What is masterful about this particular series though is that this message isn’t preachy. The teens reading it can choose to only observe the surface message – about standing up for oneself in the face of opposition – or they can critically engage with the text and realise it is about tolerance and the fight for freedom in a wider context. Clawdeen is not just rebelling against her parents when she sneaks off to her party against their wishes, she is ushering in a new era where she, and “monsters” like her, do not bow to the conventions of the past, claiming their individuality and asserting their own dominance. In a similar vein, Melody learns her newly discovered powers of persuasion are not to be used lightly, as everyone has the right to determine their own destiny and make decisions free from coercion. Again, the message to defend the rights and freedoms of others is clear, but not force-fed to the audience.
In terms of recommending this series, it is only really suited to young teens, and mostly females at that. The romances in it are clean and tasteful, lacking the threat of assault that taints so many of the popular young adult paranormal series. The narrative is easy to follow and the vocabulary is simple, but the series also has its own unique language with which readers need to familiarise themselves. For example, the words “cool” or “awesome” have been replaced with “voltage” and Clawdeen’s favourite exclamation is “Fur real?” So despite the simplistic plot there is still enough originality to engage the reader and no toxic messages to be avoided. In short, if you happen to be a thirteen-year-old girl and have a taste for the paranormal then this is the series for you!