"Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.
Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.
But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart" - From Goodreads
In an attempt to tackle the Unread Shelf Project 2018, I am going through my shelf and picking up books that are slowly gathering dust that I’ve wanted to read, but just never really got around to (it’s not my fault! it's the fault of all those new books coming out!). One of said books happens to be “Eliza and her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia, which I received in a past Owlcrate box.
Eliza and her Monsters tell the story of Eliza Mirk, a social outcast/loner who just also happens to secretly be the creator of an insanely famous online webcomic, “Monstrous Sea.” Nobody, not even her fitness/sport obsessive parents or her two younger siblings understand Eliza and her obsession with being online (or the extent of her online persona’s personality), all she wants to do is escape from high-school, from the small town. Online she isn’t judged or shunned or mocked, she has friends and fans and freedom. With her webcomic she can express herself.
And then, she meets Wallace…
Eliza and Her Monsters was a unique book in the sense that, between each chapter you get an illustration and a snippet from the comic that Eliza has created, Monstrous Sea. It took me, unfortunately, over half the book for me to really get into the book, into Eliza’s story at least. From the first mention of Monstrous Sea I was intrigued and wanted to know more, and I really hope the author decides to do a full-length comic one day. But, those are single short pages meant to illustrate and, to a certain degree, parallel/highlight the main story, not supplement it. But once I did get into it, I was absolutely immersed.
I am not sure why, exactly, but it wasn’t until after the big revelation of Eliza’s identity for that emotional connection to form. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I didn't relate to her (especially the whole 'being more comfortable online than in person" aspect and the *mild* social anxiety), but there seemed to be a wall preventing a proper connection.
Eliza’s relationship with her parents and little brothers is borderline frustrating. There’s a lot of miscommunication going on, which I think is typical of teenagers, but I found myself thinking that a lot could be solved, on both ends, if everyone just stopped to explain their point of view, their side. I tried to sympathize with Eliza, I did (though much much more at the end than the beginning), but it takes two for communication breakdowns and misunderstanding, and her utter lack of patience when it came to her parents was just infuriating. The reverse is true too, though. Her parents' inability to understand that just because you're online does not mean you're alone (actually, most of the time it means the exact opposite of that), and that online friends are just as real, just as meaningful as offline friends made me want to shake them. Anyone reading this right now, I think, could/would agree with me.
But as frustrating as it was, I think it also speaks to the strength of the writing that those miscommunications bothered me so much.
I felt a similar frustration regarding her relationship with Wallace. At first, I enjoyed its build, the way he was helping her slowly come out of her shelf, to actually experience the real world, their growing comfort with each other. With Wallace though, the frustration came after the big reveal, and it was more him being unsympathetic and selfish more than anything on Eliza’s part.
Overall, the last third (ish) of the book, to me at least, the onslaught of emotions, the breaking and mending (to be stronger) of relationships, and the great snippets of Monstrous Sea completely made up for the average start. Suddenly, Eliza stopped feeling like a ‘typical’ “nobody understands me!” teenager. Suddenly, as she has to reassess what she considered her foundation, her unwavering support (i.e. the online world and the mostly anonymous people on it) you see her for the multidimensional, flawed, vulnerable young adult that she is and you can’t help but feel anxious and isolated and lost with her.
I do recommend Eliza and Her Monsters for anyone who relates with the comfort of online life versus the real world, who struggles to a certain degree with social anxiety or who wants an (albeit a little slow) story about family, friendship, and the importance of being present/communication.
(Some) Memorable Quotes:
“You found me in a constellation.”
“There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt.
The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster though, is smart. It's always watching, and when I am cmpletely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and lets it run wild. even when I know it's coming, I can't stop it.”
“Maybe that’s normal. The things you care most about are the ones that leave the biggest holes.”
“I learned years ago that it’s okay to do this. To seek out small spaces for me, to stop and imagine myself alone. People are too much sometimes. Friends, acquaintances, enemies, strangers. It doesn’t matter; they all crowd. Even if they’re all the way across the room, they crowd. I take a moment of silence and think: I am here. I am okay.”
“Truth is the worst monster, because it never really goes away.”
“That's what I like about the internet-that it gives you time to think about what you want to say before you say it.”
“I have to try, because I’m doing it again—I’m shutting everything out because I’m frustrated and tired and because the real world is difficult and I’d rather live in one of my own making.”
“We create art for many reasons—wealth, fame, love, admiration—but I find the one thing that produces the best results is desire.”
If anyone has read Eliza and Her Monsters, let us know what you think in the comments below! Comments also open to further book/movie/show recommendations, anything you’d like to see reviewed, or general feedback. We’d love to hear what you have to say!