Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publication: May 30, 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Content Warning: depression, anxiety, panic attack, suicide, suicidal ideation
My Rating: ★★★★★
This review contains minor spoilers
The reason I’m able to sit down and write my first book review is partially because of how inspired I was by this book.
Before starting this, I was expecting to simply enjoy it. I had heard it was good, and the concept of it did sound intriguing. The life of an outsider in high school who singlehandedly created a wildly famous webcomic? I had to read this at some point. It totally sounded like something I’d like.
Except, when I was reading, there was a shift in opinion. My expectations of just enjoying this book became the understatement of the century.
The story follows a senior in high school named Eliza Mirk who, as mentioned before, is a creator of an online comic she named Monstrous Sea. Over the years, the comic gains millions of fans, which quickly leads to it’s fame. Only, Eliza isn’t actually famous herself as she chooses to keep her identity anonymous. When Eliza meets a new boy at school named Wallace, who happens to be a fan of Monstrous Sea himself, her life starts to take a turn. Suddenly, everything is at stake: her future, her identity, her relationships, and even her mind.
At first, I will admit I did have a bit of trouble connecting with the story. Sure, I was enjoying it, like I thought I would. There just wasn’t anything that was really pulling me in. Throughout most of the book, I was expecting to give it around 3 or 4 stars. It felt like a decent YA contemporary. However, towards the end, I realized I was utterly wrong and this book was going to become one of the most important books I will ever read.
Eliza is completely relatable, and I’ve seen other reviewers feel the exact same way. There are tons of YA contemporary books that have outgoing and extroverted characters, which I like sometimes, but reading about someone who isn’t like that, and is just like me, was a breath of fresh air. To see a character have her own passions, her own genuine struggles, and to feel like an outsider; it made me wish I could’ve read about Eliza when I was in high school myself. I wish every high schooler who feels different or left out could read this.
On a heavier note, and an important takeaway, I had no idea this book was going to go so deeply in to the effects that mental health issues can have on a person. The way that Eliza’s anxiety and depression were presented was realistic, heartbreaking, and not at all romanticized (a common issue in YA books). I could relate so strongly to the way she was just drifting by in high school, focusing on her comic, and waiting for college. Looking back on the beginning of the book, I realized that the subtle signs were there all along, making the portrayal even more accurate. When Eliza’s mental health slowly started deteriorating, it became a story I knew I was going to hit me hard. And that it did.
The most impactful part of this story came to me when Eliza was unable to even work on her favorite passion, Monstrous Sea. It all became real for me. I started thinking about how, for years, I haven’t been able to work on what I wanted to do the most: create a book blog. Just like Eliza I had to “feed the monster,” or my own deteriorating mental health. With therapy, with books, with writing on my own, with support, and finally making this blog.
I truly don’t think I’d be able to publish this first book review if it wasn’t for this story; it really was that impactful.
Besides all the personal matters, I do want to also note that the pacing and writing style of this story were excellent. I had no trouble with it being too slow; honestly, I don’t remember any part where I was genuinely bored. The way that Zappia described the characters, Monstrous Sea, and the range of emotions were all very well done, and it made me want to keep flipping the pages.
I did have some issues with a few of the characters. I loved Eliza (of course), but her parents and their behavior did bother me in some ways. The same can be said for Wallace. I’m still iffy about how I really feel about him. Some of what he said to Eliza was hurtful, and should never be said to a person struggling like she was. I couldn’t look past that and I’d never find that acceptable. However, I’d like to believe all the characters were each going through their own personal learning experiences. It’s hard to say whether that makes the characters themselves redeemable or not.
All in all, I absolutely loved this book. The story and the overall theme were incredible. I never expected that all of it would’ve had such an enormous impact on me, but I’m glad that it did. Please, if you haven’t, I really urge you pick this up as soon as you can. It might end up being more important and meaningful than you think.