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Reviewed by Natalya Newman
Opening sentence
Life is tough when you’re an eldritch abomination.
Published in 2022, Marie Cardno’s How to Get a Girlfriend (When You’re a Terrifying Monster) is a light-hearted exploration of paranormal romance. This novel tells the story of a human woman named Sian, who as part of her research is venturing through portals on Earth that lead to the dimension of the Endless. Humanity has been at war with the Endless in all of its shifting, ever-changing forms across the centuries. All the Endless desires is the screams and destruction of humanity – or so Sian believes. But when she ventures through the portal, Sian finds something different. Something she didn’t expect.

Trillin is a piece of the Endless. She knows she is a piece of something bigger but longs for individuality. So when she sees a human woman enter the dimension of the Endless, she is intrigued – even more so when the human regards her with no fear. What follows is a joyful dive into crushes and desire as Sian and Trillin spend time together, with Sian exploring the endless and bringing her findings back to Earth. But the Endless always absorbs its pieces, gaining the memories and experiences of the individual as they are consumed. And Trillin’s new knowledge of humanity might be enough for the Endless to journey to Earth if she is absorbed.

Cardno writes of the changing nature of life, and through Trillin’s initial encounter with Sian we learn just how beautiful humanity is to one who knows nothing of it. Even the structure of our bodies, the way our organs lie in our bodies, the way our bones connect and give us movement – every part of us is wonderful. The way Cardno expresses the sweet and innocent curiosity shown by Trillin as she shifts her form, trying to figure out how humans function, is refreshing to read. It encourages readers to observe the world with no familiarity, pointing out that even the smallest of details are breathtaking and whimsical.

Also through Trillin’s experience with watching Sian, Cardno teaches readers that we shouldn’t change ourselves for other people. Trillin tries to mimic Sian’s body as closely as she can, because she wants Sian to like her. But as we discover from Sian’s perspective, she loves everything about Trillin. Her extra eyes, her shifting form, her wings, her colours, her tentacles – Sian loves Trillin the way she is. Cardno uses this to communicate the important message of staying true to yourself and not changing for the benefit of others.

The cover art of this novel, by Laya Rose Mutton-Rogers, is both sweet and dark. This cover is surrounded by darkness but draws readers’ eyes to the flowers held in her tentacles, just as Trillin wants Sian to see her for herself instead of part of the Endless. The fonts used on the cover are playful, sharp and elegant. Again, this combines the different aspects of the novel as we follow Sian and Trillin trying to escape the Endless alive while both are distracted by the others’ flirting. The cover art uses bold lines and colours to draw attention without being too complex, which encourages readers to pick up the book and start reading.

As part of the Endless, Trillin has not always had a name. It is only when Sian asks her that she blurts out a name. For the first time, a piece of the Endless longs for individuality instead of being part of a whole. I like that Cardno uses a paranormal lens to explore the sense of lost identity and longing for individuality that many of her audience will experience. On the other side of this, readers are given chapters from Sian’s point of view and others of Trillin’s, so we get to witness Sian’s humorous inner monologue as she falls for a piece of the Endless that soon shifts to just ‘Trillin’ in her mind, reassuring both the readers and Trillin that she views Trillin as an individual.

Something I love about How to Get a Girlfriend (When You’re a Terrifying Monster) is how it mixes magic with science. As we learn early on, Sian is at a university and has gathered the funds to explore the Endless as part of her research. She talks about gathering data and using scientific equipment, which leads readers to believe that there is a battle occurring between science and the paranormal. However, it is later casually revealed that Sian and her colleagues use magic as well. This is an interesting concept, as it implies that the us vs them mentality of science and the paranormal is not so different, with magic bridging the gap between them. Cardno comments on the similarities between the two ‘sides’, rather than casting them in light and darkness. This is interesting because the same concept can be applied outside of the novel, encouraging readers to find connections between each other rather than focusing on things that could alienate someone and make them feel alone. And by slotting magic so seamlessly into everyday life and using Dunedin as a setting, Cardno immerses New Zealand readers and encourages us to find magic in our own lives.

How to Get a Girlfriend (When You’re a Terrifying Monster) is a weird and wonderful read, reflecting the way Trillin learns about Earth and humanity. Cardno shows readers that we can all be as individual and wacky as we want to be, and that there will always be people that will care for us regardless. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy Tim te Maro and the Subterranean Heartsick Blues by H.S Valley, and Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Valley explores a magical New Zealand through LGBTQIA+ romance, and Pratchett and Gaiman explore magic through weird and wonderful humour. If you enjoy a light-hearted LGBTQIA+ romance with humorous flair and a wacky blend of the paranormal, magic and science – this book is for you!

– Natalya is from Northland and is currently studying in Wellington
Publisher: Paper Road Press
ISBN: 978-1-99-115032-5
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2022
Ages: Teens
Themes: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, romance