Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia (Made You Up)
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza 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. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
I was extremely lucky to receive a digital ARC of this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book or the content of this review.
It’s funny how the books that really make you think and feel so many different things, whether they have high ratings or not, are the ones that can really stick in your mind, much more than some high rated books. I only gave this book 3.5 stars, but that wouldn’t stop me from recommending it, and I think it’ll stick in my head for a while.
From the very beginning, I wasn’t a huge fan of protagonist Eliza. There’s always been a lot of discussion about unlikable protagonists, and I’m all for them, but I think this might be a case of “it’s me, not you.” I haven’t seen any reviews for this book yet (not because there aren’t any, but I try to avoid reading reviews of books I need to review so I can focus on my own thoughts), but I have a feeling not many people will find Eliza as unlikable as I do, and I think it’s obvious why I have so much trouble being in her head and sympathizing with her: she’s too much like me. I might not have created a much-beloved and very popular web comic, but I have General Anxiety Disorder, and while Eliza isn’t diagnosed with anything and hasn’t gotten any help, I think it’s pretty obvious that she has some form of anxiety, likely Social Anxiety. She doesn’t like socializing much and is quite prickly and set in her ways. These are traits I share with her that I’m not the biggest fan of, and I prefer reading about characters who don’t reflect these things.
Another reason I wasn’t a big Eliza fan is because she had one trait that was very different from me: she’s extremely closed off from her family. I’m comfortable at home with my family, but Eliza doesn’t even do that. She’s extremely different from her parents and younger brothers, and because of that, she’s very judgmental of them and ignores them and whines about how they don’t understand her. I understand why she was like this, but I like reading about happy families who seem like they at least like each other, which made it harder to sympathize with Eliza when she didn’t even try. Again, it made sense why things were strained, but it didn’t make me like it any more.
On to the story itself, though. It was pretty awesome seeing two characters with different kinds of anxiety, but I’m starting to get tired of romance thrown into stories about mental health. I think I would have been happier to see Eliza become a part of Wallace’s group of friends instead of start a romance with him. As a very introverted person, I very much am of the mind that you don’t need to socialize all the time in order to be a healthy “normal” person, but you do need people in your life, and it would have been nice to see Eliza branching out a bit, even if it just means hanging out with friends once or twice a month. That happened, but it was more of an offset of her new relationship with Wallace, not a part of her growth as a personal.
I’m not a big high-fantasy person, so all of the insights into Eliza’s webcomic were kind of interesting, but not really my thing. It also felt a little unfinished – we got to see some background and bits of the beginning, but it wasn’t a complete story, unless I was missing something. I wasn’t too interested in finding out more due to the aforementioned lack of high-fantasy interest, but it seems like that might annoy some people.
I know it sounds like I hated this book or something, but I really didn’t – trust me, if I did, I wouldn’t have made it to the end. Despite my problems with Eliza, she did seem like a good example of someone struggling with anxiety. Just because she handled it differently than me or it manifested itself differently than mine does doesn’t make it less valid, and seeing two examples of mental health issues is very important and well-needed. I will mention a quick trigger warning/spoiler, though: there’s a scene near the end that involves suicidal thoughts, and I don’t know if it was just the mood I was in when I read it, but it really affected me and made it hard for me to like the book because it messed with my emotions too much and gave me a bit of anxiety. It was realistic, but that doesn’t make it easier to deal with.
I’m not writing this review to make people not read this book; I’m writing it so that people know what they’re getting into. Go out and read all the glowing reviews, because I do think this book deserves it, especially for its portrayal of mental health and online fandom (that was cool to see, and it made some good points about how online relationships can be just as valid and real as face-to-face ones), but know what you’re getting into, especially if you could be triggered by some of the more emotional parts of this book.
I look forward to rereading this book now that I know what to expect from it. I reread Francesca Zappia’s debut, Made You Up, and loved it the second time around, raising the rating from 4 stars to 4.5, so this is another book that could be improved by giving it a second chance.