Ah, the tie-in novel; an age old tradition usually reserved for a mass market paperback with a movie poster on the cover. In the world of toy marketing, the tie-in novel is usually produced to get parents to buy more from whatever brand their child is already obsessed with and is often, uh, terrible. Since getting into Monster High and Ever After High, and spending probably a little too much money on dolls, I knew I wanted to read the books, but couldn’t afford to drop too much more cash to do so. So I did what any self-respecting adult fan of a children’s toy line would do – I borrowed them from the library.
Monster High by Lisi Harrison
I admit I only read the first volume of this four book series (and a couple chapters of the fourth book because I’m a big fan of Draculaura), but that was enough for me. The first book read like the author took the characters of Monster High, whittled down their personalities, and stuck them into a Gossip Girl-esque world. Compared to the charm of the webisodes and movies, it was like reading some jaded teenage sister’s attempt at showing her little sister how Monster High could be made “cool.” One thing that especially stuck out for it’s awfulness was the character of Melody Carver, who seems to exist to be a checklist for fan fiction Mary Sues: sudden transformation that made her beautiful, actually a monster born to a “normie” family that just doesn’t get her, has a beautiful singing voice that can enchant anyone who hears it & make them do what she wants, and has serious angst due to her singing voice being the one thing she can’t share with the boy she loves for reasons that are dumb. Seriously, did Harrison write Harry Potter fic back in the early 2000s? Because that is some My Immortal level character building.
(And just in case you were wondering, I don’t even have a problem with teenage girls writing Mary Sues in fan fiction. They can do whatever their little hearts desire, but I expect more from a published author.)
The one thing I will give this series is that it zeroes in on the core message of the MH franchise, that being yourself is key, and textually acknowledges that monsters (or “RADs” at the book calls them) are feared and hated in the same way that people of color, homosexuals and other groups have been over the years. Unfortunately from what I’ve read, it looks like that’s ALL the series does, briefly talking about it and then going right back to being shallow.
Rating: No stars. Just. None.
Monster High Ghoulfriends Series by Gitty Daneshvari
The Ghoulfriends series is very different from the first Monster High series in that it takes a much more basic and familiar approach to the MH universe. Instead of trying to make the ghouls act more like stereotypical teens, this series tries to keep the innocence and charm of the webisodes and movies intact while telling a story about tertiary character Rochelle Goyle, Robecca Steam and Venus McFlytrap. The main ghouls make appearances as well, but usually acting as side characters.
I have read the first two books of this series , and while they were much easier to get through than any of the original MH series, it’s still not quite what I was looking for. I realize Mattel does not keep tight a canon with Monster High, but I felt Daneshvari’s characterizations are still a bit off, or at least unappealing. Rochelle is cute, and her obsession with rules and correction reminds me of many teenagers I’ve known (and perhaps been), but Venus and Robecca fell flat. Robecca relies heavily on the young adult literature trope of tirelessly spewing catchphrases when the author doesn’t have a voice for her. Being a recently reassembled 116 year old robot, she naturally uses dated slang like “bee’s knees,” but then goes about inventing similar sounding expressions that seem to pop out of nowhere, such as “mouse’s house.” And while this could be considered at least cute and charming, Venus, on the other hand, comes off as an annoying hippie type, getting angry at Cleo for using paper shopping bags and sneezing her “pollens of persuasion” on people when they don’t agree with her viewpoints.
I like both Venus and Robecca, but I don’t feel like they need to be featured so heavily in these books. If I had the chance to do something with the series, I would love to see perhaps Skelita and Jinafire step into their places, becoming Rochelle’s roommates after the events of the Scaris movie. Skelita and Jin do play a small part in Ghoulfriends, but they are largely ignored by other MH canon, and I feel fleshing them out in a series like this would be a big improvement upon their state as one-note cultural placeholders. I like them both a lot, and I felt their characters were poured from the molds of “Mexican monster character” and “Chinese monster character” when developed for Scaris and have yet to develop personalities that differentiate them from just their cultural identities. Making them two of the three main characters of series like this would flesh them out beyond “Mexican skeleton with a sugar skull for a head” and what basically boils down to the fact that the design team created a stereotypical dragon lady. (Which honestly blows my mind, like – how did that get past marketing???)
But I digress. Two big saving graces of this series are the beautiful cover & chapter art and the story’s original characters. The drawings are numerous and done in a sketchy pen and ink style that stays true to the original character designs and makes the covers very attractive. The original characters, unlike Melody Carver of the first MH series, are actually interesting and engaging, and fit in well with the universe and it’s style: Cy Clops, a shy, one-eyed monster with a crush on Robecca; Ms. Sue Nami, a waterlogged disciplinarian who refers to the students as “non-adult entities”; and Ms. Slyphia Flapper, a dragon, new teacher, and the main antagonist of the series. Just from their punny names alone I love how well they fit into the universe and have so far been a lot of fun to follow and watch interact with the main trio.
I will probably finish this series, as it only took me a couple hours to read each book, but I’m not assuming the story will get any more engaging or the characters any more rounded. Cute and charming, not unlike the webisodes, but still leave something to be desired.
Ever After High: #1 The Storybook of Legends & #2 The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale
It’s hard not coming off as biased, but I LOVE these books! I think I can chalk my love of the Ever After High story to Mattel’s tight canon bible as well as Hale’s (h)excellent writing. I definitely got the impression from both books that they are what’s really going on behind the doll line, a mature, but still sweet and charming take on the Ever After High universe with wonderful characterization, great plots, and well-written prose. These books really round out the characters we’ve so far only seen in webisodes and make the universe seem all that much more alive and thriving.
I’ve talked a bit on my Twitter about my love for EAH, with it’s many layers of meta text, focus on choice and choosing your own path in life (but remembering the consequences), and message of living the life you want, free of expectations of others, especially peers and parents. I could talk endlessly about the world building, the meta, and the excellent messages it has for kids and adults alike, but then we’d be here all day.
The series itself is well written and Mattel did itself a great favor in picking Hale to write it. She clearly understands the conceit of the series and writes the characters so well that they are all sympathetic and interesting. Apple White, a hated character among webisode-only fans, really shines, getting her message through and actually making me question my very rebellious leanings. And while the books don’t follow the canon of the webisodes to a T, or vice versa, they parallel and compliment each other nicely.
I have literally nothing bad to say about this series and I really hope Hale is able to write it until it’s inevitable “The End.”