My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I always read before I go to bed, so last night I decided to pick up Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. I fell in love and before I knew it, I was 50% done but I thought I could read for another 15 or so minutes – that turned into me finishing the book at midnight. I don’t regret a thing. This is a mental health book that deals with trauma, anxiety, and depression, so I would just like to give all readers a trigger warning. I personally felt that it was beautifully written, but not everyone will feel the same way so I suggest a level of caution if you think you may be triggered by these things. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel harmed by this book or any book.
Just a warning, I do talk about the relationships in this book as well as some plot points. I don’t discuss anything that wasn’t mentioned in the synopsis on the book or Goodreads, but if you haven’t read those then this is your spoiler warning.
Our main character is Eliza, the anonymous creator of the famous webcomic Monsterous Seas. She has always been more comfortable online than dealing with the real world, or real people. All of her friends are online. She has always kept her identity a secret and as the popularity of her work has grown, the fervor to learn her identity has as well.
Eliza has always been content to spend her days in school drawing and talking to no one – that is until there is a new guy in school, Wallace. Against all odds, he is a fan of Monsterous Seas and actually writes fan fiction about it. It doesn’t take long before they become friends and Wallace gets Eliza to come a little more out of her shell. Their friendship was so precious and I loved watching them bond over a story that was so important to each of their lives.
The romance aspect of the book also made me super happy – I legitimately was smiling every time they were super cute together. Even though they each had their issues to deal with, they didn’t push each other past their respective lines of security. They were supportive of one another and I think that Wallace was the perfect foil for Eliza. Yes, they had their troubles but at the end of the day, they were there for one another.
The family dynamic was completely relatable if frustrating at times. Eliza’s parents don’t truly understand what her webcomic is or how famous it is, which causes a lot of friction within the family. Her parents want to understand her more, but Eliza is very closed and protective of herself. While they may not understand the importance of it even if she took the time to explain it and what it means to the world, she doesn’t even give them the chance. Eliza is defensive and her lack of communication is what ultimately leads to the worst crisis she experiences, despite her parent’s well-meaning intentions.
The most heart-warming part of the novel was the scene in which one of her brothers stood up for her and supported Eliza. It was such a precious moment and it was nice to see a positive familial connection being formed. Eliza learns throughout the novel that she never gave her family a chance and that maybe she doesn’t really know them. The growth that she experiences over the course of the novel was wonderful to see and gives you hope that (although she’s fictional) perhaps things will change for the better with her family and her life.
As a person who feels infinitely more comfortable talking to someone over the internet than in person, there were many times that I related to Eliza. I completely understand the anxiety of talking to another person, even one-on-one. I cannot imagine the stress and havoc the reveal of your identity to millions of people would have on your psyche and body. My heart broke when we found out her identity was exposed because Francesca wrote a character so real that we could feel her horror and destruction.
There was also some diversity in this book, although it wasn’t as explored as it could have been. Wallace’s family is a unique situation and I would have loved to learn more about them, but understand that it would have slowed down the pacing of the novel. I can’t say more because I don’t want this to have actual spoilers, so just go read the book. While it is not explicitly mentioned in the book, the author wrote in a tweet that she wished her portrayal of ace/demi sexuality was truly addressed. I think that would have brought a wonderful level of diversity that we don’t normally see in books and could use more of.
If it wasn’t clear from my ‘I read it in one sitting into the wee hours of the night’ tale, I absolutely loved this book. It was very relatable and as an introverted fangirl myself, I personally felt represented by this book. Even though I didn’t know about it before it was published, I definitely expect it to make my best of 2017 list. It is a contemporary that, in my opinion, honestly and respectfully tackles mental illness, family relationships and is so wonderfully written that I hope you fall in love with it as well.