Published by Greenwillow on May 30, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: YA Books Central
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.
Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality
Racial-Ethnic: 2 (Wallace’s stepmom and half-sister are black)
Disability: 5 (Eliza and Wallace are both living with anxiety disorders)
A couple of years ago, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell came out and everyone loved it and I thought it was pretty awful, honestly. That the fictional fandom in the book got its own massive book last year mystifies me. But Eliza and Her Monsters? Yeah, I’d pay good money to enjoy the entirety of the fictional webcomic since it’s an original story all its own rather than the barely-even-veiled Harry Potter fanfic that Carry On was. Since Zappia’s debut novel Made You Up merely whelmed me, I wasn’t expecting Eliza and Her Monsters to knock me off my feet the way it did.
Eliza, secret creator of a massive webcomic, is an eighteen-year-old ball of anxieties with much more going on online than in real life. Basically me at eighteen except I was/am a book reviewer instead. Just like Eliza’s family is baffled but aware of her online activities, my parents were/are also baffled but aware. (They’re also thankful for the regular flow of ARCs because I’d be spending much more money on books and gas money to go to the library without them.)
Wallace just happens to also be a teenage ball of anxieties with a good bit of status online thanks to the fanfics he writes for Eliza’s webcomic. When they get together, they’re my dear anxious children and I’d happily wrap them up in blanket burritos to protect them from the world. They represent two ways among many that people experience anxiety disorders and both are extremely well-written as well as in tune with what I experience as someone with generalized anxiety disorder.
All in all, the strength of these characters make up the bulk of the book’s appeal and drawing power. Monstrous Sea is an excellent webcomic based on the panels and passages readers get, though.
Meta YA is coming out in force recently with books like Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia and Literally by Lucy Keating, but Eliza and Her Monsters handles its meta differently. In the two former titles, it’s an important part of the narrative and the characters are fully aware of it; here, Eliza and Wallace’s discussions of fandom are simply so resonant with anyone’s experience as a fan of something that it becomes meta and the characters stay unaware. This and the strength of the characters draw the reader in and make the book nearly impossible to put down.
Eliza and Wallace make an adorable couple, but with her keeping it secret that she writes the comic he’s a huge fan of, you know things are going to go down. Without realizing the impact of what they’re doing, Eliza’s parents expose her identity as LadyConstellation. The expected breakdown of everything Eliza knows ensues and it taps into our fear of our own online identities being connected to us.
Remember the New Hampshire state rep who was found out as the founder of Reddit’s Red Pill subreddit and then resigned from office? Yeah. Even people who aren’t doing anything horrible online would probably prefer Online Self stay separate from Real Life Self unless or until they choose to connect the two.
Throughout high school and in my first year of college, I wrote like a fiend and was at the point of querying literary agents. Then I simply stopped. Just like that. I took creative writing classes and wrote for those when assignments called for it, but I simply haven’t written more than that for about three years and there’s no good reason for it. After reading Eliza and Her Monsters, I think I want to write again. After years of having nothing left in me, something is back. All I can say is thank you, Francesca Zappia.
Eliza and Her Monsters is The Book for writers, readers, fans, and creative types. It knows our hearts, our struggles, and our anxieties and it encourages us to keep creating no matter what. Whether it has just one fan or it’s a worldwide phenomenon, your art means something to someone. This book is the best kick in the rear you’ll ever get as a creator and I’m going to be getting a copy to put on my shelves as soon as possible.