ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS
By Francesca Zappia
Published // May 30, 2017
Published by // Greenwillow Books
Pages // 400
AMAZON // BOOK DEPOSITORY // GOODREADS
Synopsis // In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community, and 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 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.
It has been awhile since a book has so deeply understood a piece of the world that I love so much: fandom. ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS is a wonderful story about a girl who is the anonymous creator of an insanely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She is perfectly content spending her time creating new pages for the webcomic, talking to her online BFFs Max and Emmy, and interacting with the fans in the forums on Friday nights. She is extremely introverted, preferring her online community to the one physically around her. Everything changes when one of the biggest fans, and most popular fan fiction writers, of Monstrous Sea transfers to her high school. Eliza begins to toy with the idea that the offline world might be worth her time, too.
I felt that the characters were all dynamic and full, almost as if they were picked right out of my own group of friends in high school. Eliza herself is an introvert who prefers the online community over the people in high school, and her main interactions are with her family who just don’t understand why she spends all her time on the internet. Wallace is adorable and sweet, athletic, and such a Monstrous Sea nerd. He writes fanfiction, cosplays as Dallas, and is doesn’t talk around most people unless he is comfortable with them. Eliza’s best friends, Max and Emmy, come to life through the chats and forums and I felt that their internet friendships were so incredibly genuine.
The story explores what it means to live half in one world, and half in another. The dichotomy of being active online, with friends in different time zones and countries, and spending the days alone at school is one that I think a lot of teens experience, and it is very well portrayed in this book. It is an experience that is so common, yet so unique to this generation, and I think that the family dynamics surrounding this experience were also done really well.
Eliza’s feels as if her family just doesn’t understand, and it’s true, because they don’t make an effort to learn. Eliza doesn’t try hard to explain it either, though. The parents try to be supportive, but just don’t know enough in order to support her well. I liked the way that they were a part of the story, and her life.
When Wallace transfer to her school, they begin to connect over their shared love for Monstrous Sea, but Wallace doesn’t know that Eliza Murk is really Lady Constellation, THE creator. She allows him to continue on just thinking that she just does (amazing) fan art for the comic, and he encourages her to start engaging with the fandom. He even introduces her to the other biggest fans, who basically rule over the Monstrous Sea forums, and she begins to make more ‘real life’ friends.
This all changes when her identity becomes public knowledge – everyone in town learns that Eliza is the creator of Monstrous Sea, including Wallace. Eliza’s world comes crashing down, and the way that she has to come to terms with her privacy being gone, relationships challenged, and life changed was handled with a really deep understanding of what it must have been like.
There were a lot of great elements that came together to create a really lovely story. Besides what I’ve already talked about, these elements stood out:
Monstrous Sea fan art // this was truly SO FREAKING COOL. Francesca Zappia is an artist, and she included art of the characters from the webcomic throughout the story! It was such a perfect addition to the story, and helped bring it to life.
The Children of Hypnos // in Eliza, The Children of Hypnos is Eliza’s favorite book series. She references it numerous times, including when she was reminiscing on it as her first fandom online. She rereads it to find inspiration again, and even gets Wallace hooked on the series. Not only was this a cool detail, but Francesca actual WROTE the story in real life. This is similar to how FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell was about writing a fic called Carry On based on the Simon Snow books, and then Rainbow Rowell actually wrote the story of Simon and Baz in Carry On. You can read The Children of Hypnos by Francesca Zappia on Wattpad, and it is now complete. I truly love that you can read the story that is referenced in ELIZA.
Realistic portrayals of mental health issues // The story includes characters who experience anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, suicidal ideation, and other mental health issues. These are intrinsic to the characters, their lives, and the story. Francesca writes such realistic, honest, and raw at times portrayals of these mental health issues. She touches on nuanced situations and experiences with grace and truth, and I appreciated that a lot.
Eliza and Her Monsters is a pretty personal story for me. I wrote it in the hopes that it could help other very introverted and anxious creative types and those who feel the keen double edge of fandom and life online.
I loved the romance in this story, as well. I liked that it was not the only important plot point in the story, but it complimented the overall story so well. It is slow to come to fruition, and sweet, and felt very real to me. Ahh, it’s just so precious. The scene with their first kiss is just perfect.
The growth of the characters (Eliza, Wallace, her parents, etc.) is so wonderful to watch unfold. I think that the conflict and disasters of the story were done in a way where I didn’t quite know how everything would pan out, but I enjoyed how things were resolved in the end.
MY CELEBRATION OF FANDOM //
ELIZA is all about fandom, online communities, and the beauty that comes from these things. We’re ALL fans of something, and I wanted to take some time to share with you some of my personal favorite fandoms.
Harry Potter was probably the first fandom I really was a part of, and really interacted with. I read the books in middle school, and fell in love. I reblogged fan art on tumblr, read fics, spent hours on mugglenet.com, and waited all day outside the theaters for the midnight screenings. I even helped start the Harry Potter club in high school. It will always have a special place in my heart. Here is some of my favorite fan art:
Honestly, I am SO far behind with Doctor Who. BUT, it was a huge part of my life in high school and early college. It’s such a great show, and the spin off shows are fantastic as well. When I was a freshman at UW, I joined Time Lords United, a club of Doctor Who fans, which became super important to me when I didn’t have a lot of communities at college yet. We met weekly, watched episodes, had game nights, and even went to comic con together. I’m thankful for these friends and this fandom during a time when I needed the support the most, because they were there for me.
I think the folks who create beautiful fan art are so, so cool. Two of my personal favorites are Risa Rodil and Simini Blocker.
Risa creates gorgeous illustrations, incorporating some of my favorite quotes from a variety of things. You can find her at https://risarodil.com/. Here are a few of my favorites:
Simini’s work is entirely lovely. I am such a big fan of hers! Her style is amazing and she draws some of my favorite characters and I just about die. She does a lot of illustrations for GoodReads, and she illustrated the 2017 calendar for Uppercase! You can find her at siminiblocker.tumblr.com or on twitter. Here are some of my favorites of her work:
Thanks for taking some time to celebrate some of my favorite fandoms and creators! ELIZA was a great reminder of why these online communities are so important. 🙂
ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS is enchanting. It shows the beauty of online friendships and shared online community experiences within the world of fandom. I can not recommend this book to people enough. If you have ever loved anything so much that you felt the need to participate in the community around the thing, by creating or consuming art/fanfiction/cosplay etc, THIS BOOK IS PERFECT FOR YOU. We’re all fans of something, and ELIZA helped remind me why that is worth celebrating. <3
OVERALL RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 ROSES