Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Mental Illness
Rating: 5 Stars
“There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt. The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster though, is smart. It’s always watching, and when I am completely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and it lets it run wild. Even when I know it’s coming, I can’t stop it.”
Dear fellow Babblers,
Eliza Mirk is caught between two worlds. In the real world she is an introvert attending high school in a small town. No real life friends. No real life wishes. No real life expectations. In Eliza’s world, or the one she creates for herself in the online space, she is LadyConstellation, the infamous character behind the webcomic, Monstrous Sea. In this new digital universe where physical contact and speaking face-to-face is no longer of vital importance, Eliza has fans, is popular, and chats, or IM’s all the time. She has two best friends here, neither of whom she can give a face to. There’s Emma from California who is a feisty 14-year-old who’s brains earned her a spot in college early, but not without a few mocking remarks from professor. And then there’s Matt, a 22-year-old living in Canada whose typical day consists of video chatting with his “model” girlfriend. Emma and Matt are not just Eliza’s buddies; they’re also her psychics. They keep Eliza’s identity safe from discovery: LadyConstellation cannot be connected to Eliza; that’s the sole objective.
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.
Online. This is where Eliza feels most herself, the most comfortable. Away from the sun and chirping voices outside, inside her room with internet connection and her sketchpad Eliza is free and unafraid. She been working on Monstrous Sea all through high school. It has become one of the most popular trends worldwide to the point there are forums, fan clubs, and even merchandise for fans to invest in, giving Eliza enough money to pay her way through college without her family’s support.
Up to this point everything seems to be going just as it should. Eliza does the bare minimum academically, sits by herself at lunch with rounds of greasy French fries and her sketchpad, comes home and talks as little as possible to her perky parents and scrawny brothers. She chooses to spends hours up in her room with the door closed, phone and laptop in front of her, and an array of drawing materials spread around her. It is her escape from the world she is unsatisfied with and feels out of place within. Here, she can create and bring to life the monsters that live in her mind. People care about Eliza, or more, LadyConstellation here – her thoughts, opinions, ideas. Fans wait in anticipation for her arrival on the forums, and the slightest change of schedule throws their online worlds topsy turvy.
One day, Eliza’s homeroom teacher asks assigns Eliza to sit with the new boy, Wallace and make him feel welcome. From this day forward, Eliza’s steady routine from here on out is no longer. Despite her teacher’s request that Eliza make Wallace feel welcome, she keeps her distance and does not mutter a word. The incident she finds herself in only a few days later changes all this and weaves Wallace and Eliza’s life together.
Wallace, as big and intimidating as he is, is found sitting on the steps in front of school one day, probably waiting for his ride. He is intently writing in a notebook when two high school jocks come along and decide they want to read what Wallace is writing, hustling Wallace’s notebook from his firm grasp. Eliza sees what is happening and bundles up the courage to stride straight up to the scene and demand the bullies to give Wallace his pages back. It’s already unexpected and rather surprising that Eliza would get involved to begin with but now the boys, who basically tease Eliza on a daily basis go after her. They snatch her sketchbook from her which has numerous sketches she’s working on for the next few pages of Monstrous Sea. They can’t know she is LadyConstellation. They just can’t. The boys see and, impressed, toss it back and forth between one another. Finally Wallace helps her get her sketchbook back, but not without giving some of her sketches a look as well.
Wallace writes Eliza a note asking her if she’s a fan artist of Monstrous Sea. She immediately nods in the affirmative. Likewise, Wallace, Eliza quickly finds out, is a fan writer of it. This is how their relationship takes off.
Wallace and Eliza begin exchanging more notes in class, sit together silently at lunch, bonding over the mere fact they are both “fans” of the popular webcomic. Wallace rarely speaks but when he does, his voice is low and musky, which suits Eliza well. As their friendship grows it becomes increasingly difficult to keep her “fan” exterior. To make things even more complicated Wallace is the writer behind the most popular fan writing on the forum, Rainmaker. Why is this surprising and leads one to entertain the possibility of fate? LadyConstellation and Rainmaker have been “flirting” lately. You know. The winky faces. Clever remarks. Double-meaning sentences. Eliza is rightly surprised when she finds out and this becomes even more difficult for her, but Emma and Mike are always there to secure her disguise. So what’s to worry about, right?
This book is extremely complex in the fact that there’s a lot going on. Not plot-wise, but more in terms of characters. It’s not apparent at first that Eliza has a mental illness. To me, she just seemed like an awkward introvert who has more fun alone than with people, no harm in that. However, as the story progresses, there are multiple instances where Eliza’s thoughts and internal conflicts become increasingly disturbing. One example is the days following her identity being revealed in the town newspaper and Wallace’s reluctance to forgive her. She is so close to ending her life and everything in her world just stops. She fights back and forth with the monsters in her mind, unsure of what would be best, or at least, easier and less painful in the long run for those around her. All of her thoughts are laid out and rawly illustrated. I felt like I was there, experiencing all this heartbreak right there with Eliza, as Eliza herself.
I liked Wallace, well at least I could tolerate him. But then his response to Eliza after the newspaper article? H quickly made his way to my list of YA Characters I Detest. His reaction and treatment of Eliza, like she was the holder of his future was just cold and so iresponsible. He knows Eliza. It’s obvious by now that she has a mental illness. And what does he do? Put himself and Monstrous Sea first. If Eliza does not suck it up and finish the comic, his hope for securing a book contract is finished. Eliza struggles. She struggles a lot so it’s really understandable why she would eventually run into writers, or artists block. But of course Wallace doesn’t care. That just got me so upset, it was hard for me to even keep reading after that (I did continue though, of course). I wanted so badly just to walk right through the pages and help Eliza out of her mind and those around her who completely lack enough sensitivity to truly understand her, including her go-go parents.
In terms of writing style I could not ask for more. Zapia’s words are affecting and dense. There was not a moment while reading that I did not feel something. My heart jolted, felt wrenched, thumped, slowed down, broke. She gives one of the most realistic, non romanticized panoramas of suicidal depression and anxiety in a way that most readers can, in one way or another, find themselves relating to Eliza. I feel as though we all have a little Eliza in us, especially with the spurt of technology and digital media nowadays. Sometimes its just easier and less stressful to converse through a phone than in person. There’s no chance for an introvert to be seen as an introvert in the computer space. A reader cannot detect depression or anxiety just by reading a comic, unless its mentioned, of course. We all know what it’s like and have had our own experiences with technology, that’s why it’s become such a huge “thing” and the older generation who grew up without it simply shake their heads in disbelief, struggling to understand. The internet and one’s home is a place of escape, mental release, protection from harm. This is Eliza, but this is also us, at least I know it’s me in a way.
As I already mentioned, I read this book over a week ago, and here I am writing this post and thinking of Eliza’s life. This book has had a powerful hold on me and I know I will continue to hold it’s magnificence in my heart for a long time coming. There were sobs, laughs, groaning coming from me as I read and though I turned the last page, closed the book, and returned it to my shelf, will continue to guard it’s words and messages in my conscious. Eliza and Her Monsters is not a YA on love and teenage struggle – it is so much more. Project the story onto yourself and watch how your life and just your world will become shaken, dismantled, and reformed.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)