Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is one of the many young adult books from 2017 that I missed and am now circling back to. Thanks to my annual trip to BookPeople in Austin, Texas on Christmas Day, I finally snagged myself a copy and gave it a place on this blog. There is of course the usual excitement of potentially discovering a new favorite YA author, but also, the premise alone sounds pretty amazing, and I was ready to root for a shy, creative, and awkward protagonist.
The Situation: Eliza Mirk is a high school senior in Westcliff, Indiana, and she hates it. High school that is. Actually, she is not all the fond of Westcliff either. And the best thing about being a senior is it means high school is almost over. Eliza does not have a high school crowd, or even a few small friends to eat lunch with. Her two closest friends live far away, and she only interacts with them online. The thing about Eliza is that she is shy, socially inept, a little strange, and the creator of one of the most famous web comics on the Internet, Monstrous Sea. But outside of her family, and her two online friends, no one knows that. And Eliza prefers it that way. Even when the new kid at school turns out to be Monstrous Sea's biggest fanfiction writer - as well as smart, and nice, and kind of cute - Eliza decides to continue to hide who she is.
The Problem: Hanging out with Wallace Warland, or rainmaker as he is known online, comes really easy for Eliza. For one, he is less interested in speaking to people than she is. And two, he loves Monstrous Sea, so they have plenty to talk about, or write to each other about. The longer she hangs out with him, the more she begins to come out of her shell, even attending a few social events and making new friends. Being more of a joiner is something Eliza's super athletic and outgoing parents always wanted for her. Thinking that Monstrous Sea is no more than a little hobby, they would prefer if their daughter stepped away from her computer and phone more often and joined them outside. They are pleased she has made a new friend, but still do not understand her, and she does plenty on her end to keep them in the dark. As long as Eliza maintains the tenuous control she has over her life, she will be able to make it to graduation in one piece. One small change could make her feel unbalanced. And a big one just might cause her to fall apart completely.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in the fictional small town of Westcliff, Indiana, where Eliza lives with her parents and two little brothers, Sully and Church (named after Ed Sullivan and Winston Churchill, respectively). Eliza is incredibly anti-social, preferring to retreat into the fictional world she created known as Monstrous Sea. Her fans only know her as LadyConstellation, but her moderator Max (Apocalypse_Cow) and the manager of monstroussea.com Emmy (emmersmacks) know her as Eliza (MirkerLurker), the creative and awkward girl who posts pages every Friday that continue the story. Eliza is not like every other teen in that she has a huge online following and prefers drawing, writing, and being online to pretty much everything else in life. But she is like almost every other teen in that she feels like her little brothers hate her, and that her parents just don't understand. Her identity is wrapped up in LadyConstellation and the story she has created, which is somewhat of a problem as she does not let anyone know that she is LadyConstellation, not even Wallace. Eliza comments that the beginning of the comic was her beginning, and that it is her responsibility to continue it. So what happens if it ends? What happens if her secret is found out? What happens if Wallace finds out?
My Verdict: I have to be honest and say that I did not like Eliza for probably the first half of this book. To me, she was a brat. And whiny. And incredibly selfish. I mean this was worse than typical teenage stuff. I can usually feel for the shy, socially awkward, creative type, but she was too much. Ever so slowly though, Wallace helps her to come up for air once in awhile, if only for a little bit at a time. Eventually, I did begin to feel for her, and root for her, and scream on the inside for her whenever things went wrong. And giving her a secret identity as a creator of a popular web comic added a new and fresh dimension to the story. Of course people are different online than they are in real life, but this was something else entirely. We may not all have insanely popular web comics, but everyone can relate to the desire to retreat to a place where we feel understood and cared about.
Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When Sully confronts his parents with what they have done to Eliza and how little they truly know her. I think what is most messed up about this scene is that we know Eliza is the hero, and at this point her parents are the villains. No 13 year-old boy should ever have to yell at his parents about how they do not know his sister.
Favorite Character: I can honestly say I would never have called this at the beginning of the novel, but Sully and Church ended up being my favorites, even though they really aren't in the story all that much.
Recommended Reading: Many aspects of this story remind me of Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, one of my favorite YA books, and certainly my favorite book by Rowell.