Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Anxiety rep
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.🌙
Eliza and Her Monsters is not just another contemporary.
At the age of 18, Eliza is the anonymous creator of a web comic and online phenomenon, Monstrous Sea—but she doesn’t talk to anyone offline. When she meets Wallace, a Monstrous Sea superfan and brilliant fan fiction writer, her way of life completely changes. No longer completely tied to an online world, Eliza struggles to maintain her anonymity, even from Wallace. Meanwhile, she has to figure out how to write an ending to the series she’s worked so hard to create. I read this book on the brilliant recommendation of the lovely Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books, and I’m so glad I picked this up.
Francesca Zappia is clearly a talented artist, and her inclusion of Eliza’s artwork in the story took this one step further than the average contemporary novel.
As I read, I discovered more about Monstrous Sea, which is its own world with its own lore and magic. I found myself desperately wishing there was a whole book of Monstrous Sea, because it’s definitely something I would devour. Zappia does an amazing job of combining elements of online conversations and posts, so that I got a really good feel for Eliza’s online world as well. Eliza’s two best friends are people she’s never met IRL, but they each have a distinctive voice that comes through in their message threads; as a writer, I was blown away.
Eliza Mirk is the kind of character that either makes or breaks a story. In my opinion, she makes this one.
I really related to Eliza as an artist, strangely. Although none of my work has ever come close to being as famous as Monstrous Sea, Eliza’s desire to maintain her artistic integrity while being literally invisible IRL really resonated with me. As a writer, few people I encounter in my daily life have so much as read my blog, much less any of my fiction. Eliza’s emotions at 18 reminded me of my young self and almost made me weirdly nostalgic for that time of my life, in all its grittiness.
That being said, it should be acknowledged that Eliza is an unlikable character.
She’s angsty to the extreme. Despite having parents who love her and give her everything she could ever need, she resents them for not understanding what her art really means. Plenty of people deal with family situations that are much worse than what Eliza does… yet I related to this too.
When I was in high school, I hated my parents. They didn’t understand why I chose to spend all my spare time writing bits and pieces of a novel on scraps of notebook paper. They didn’t take me seriously as an artist (although pretty much no one did). They wanted me to go to a good college and get a real career, and I resented them for how much they wanted me to be a successful adult. While I can see why some people would find Eliza’s treatment of her parents problematic, I related to it so much, and I think this is the first time I encountered this representation of what my life was like as a teen. I do think Eliza grows over the course of the novel, that she learns to communicate better with her parents.
Ultimately, this is a story about what it means to be a teen artist in an online world.
Through Eliza’s eyes, the reader can see just how valuable online relationships can be to a young person. We live in a world that’s full of scare articles about how dangerous the Internet is for kids, but very few people openly talk about how helpful it can be to someone like Wallace, who’s dealing with trauma and doesn’t feel comfortable talking and interacting in person. Sure, one can lose themselves on the internet; but if you’re reading this lengthy review, I’m pretty sure you agree that the internet can also be a place of belonging for so many of us.
Eliza and Her Monsters also has one of the most beautiful, slow-moving romances I’ve read in a long time.
Wallace is such a sweet character. It’s rare to find a male character who’s both tough and soft, and I loved his story so much. He recently lost his father and lived in a blended family, which is another thing that I want to see more of in YA. Beyond that, the relationship between Eliza and Wallace is sweet and flawed and real. Their slow-motion romance completely fits the two characters: Eliza never interacts and makes friends IRL, but learns to do so through Wallace; Wallace learns to use his voice slowly but surely. Both of them still have a ways to go as characters, which is part of what makes it real.
The main thing I felt was missing was a bigger discussion of mental health.
[Note: mild to moderate spoilers ahead.]
Eliza’s anxiety feels very realistic: she puts an incredible amount of pressure on her art, and added to that is the fact that she begins to feel responsible for Wallace’s future as well. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with, and when her anonymity as an artist is shattered, Eliza finally cracks. Again, this felt incredibly real to me. Sometimes, with a mental illness, you can be going along just fine until something whacks you over the head and makes you feel completely broken.
Yet I wanted to see more in terms of Eliza’s recovery from anxiety. There’s exactly one scene of her in therapy, and while it’s a beautiful scene, I wanted more. Additionally, there’s a scene where Eliza contemplates suicide (in the exact same way as Wallace’s father) and is really only deterred when Wallace himself actually shows up. Setting aside the fact that there’s no way Wallace could’ve known where Eliza was, this terrifying scene is set aside in the narrative and not really addressed as being a truly serious moment. Whether or not Eliza really would’ve committed suicide, the moment feels over-dramatic in part because of how it’s shoved aside; it can be read as teen angst, rather than a serious cry for help.
Overall, though, this is a book I highly recommend.
Once I started reading Eliza and Her Monsters, I could hardly put it down. I was easily sucked into Eliza’s world and that of her web comic. I rooted for her relationship with Wallace and cheered on both of them in their mental health recovery. If you’re looking for realistic anxiety rep, or just something that explores internet relationships, this is definitely one you don’t want to miss.