You may or may not know that I once ran a book blog. Working full time and attending college meant that I had very little time to dedicate to the blog so I let my hosting and domain name expire and never went back to it. Recently, I’ve been itching to get back into reviewing and discussing books. I want this blog to be a reflection of me and nothing says that better than books. So, today, I’m bringing you a review of Eliza and Her Monsters.
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.
AUTHOR: Francesca Zappia
REPRESENTATION: social anxiety, PTSD, and selective mutism
TRIGGER WARNINGS: suicidal ideation and mentions of death
As someone who has suffered from social anxiety her entire life, finding a book that features a main character who also has this disorder made both teenage and present me feel seen, and there’s something special about a book that gets you. Eliza and Her Monsters got me.
Eliza and Her Monsters follows the story of Eliza Mirk, also known as LadyConstellation, who much prefers the online world to the real one. An extremely talented artist, Eliza is the creator of a popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea, that has taken the internet by storm. Except no one knows that ordinary Eliza Mirk is the brains behind the comic. The anonymity allows introverted Eliza, who is suffering from anxiety, to be herself in a world where almost everyone knows the name LadyConstellation.
‘I’m so tired. I’m tired of anxiety that twists my stomach so hard I can’t move the rest of my body. Tired of constant vigilance. Tired of wanting to do something about myself, but always taking the easy way out.’
I remember spending my formative years reading, immersing myself into different worlds as a means to escape the constant anxiety. I never saw myself, not once, in a character the way I saw myself represented in Eliza. Characters with a mental illness were not as widely published back then. Now more people are speaking up about mental illness, the more books I’m discovering that feature characters with a mental illness.
What helped me cope with my mental illness in the early days was the internet. I spent every waking hour that I could online. The internet became my life. It was the only place I felt like I belonged. I found like-minded individuals and really began to find myself. While it’s not always healthy to spend all day, every day alone in your bedroom with only the internet for company, there is a solace to be found there. I love that this was explored in Eliza and Her Monsters. The book highlighted the importance the internet – and internet friends – can have on a person.
Eliza is not the only character suffering from anxiety. Enter Wallace Warland, the new kid at school, who has PTSD and selective mutism. What I loved about Wallace is that he’s a character that defies stereotypes. He is not the type of character we typically see affected by mental illness in fiction. It was also nice to see a character with a different form of anxiety that isn’t as widely written about. We need more diverse representation. People deserve to see themselves represented in a character. Wallace is soft and Eliza hard. I absolutely loved the dynamics we see from these two characters.
‘Creating art is a lonely task, which is why we introverts revel in it, but when we have fans looming over us, it becomes loneliness of a different sort. We become cage animals watched by zoo-goers, expected to perform lest the crowd grow bored or angry. It’s not always bad. Sometimes we do well, and the cage feels more like a pedestal.’
This book explored many relationships, including the one between a content creator and an online fandom. Eliza and Her Monsters was the first book that I’ve read which highlights this kind of relationship. This will resonate with almost everyone who has a social media presence. I feel we’ve all felt that desire to continue creating content at the expense of ourselves, because we have this expectation that the people who follow us demand this content right now. How many times have you said to yourself that you need to publish that post or picture or video? How many times have you worked into the middle of the night just to get what you were working on just right, even if it means neglecting yourself in the process? I know I’m guilty of this. Eliza and Her Monsters explores creating content can negatively impact your life and what can happen when you allow yourself a break and rediscover the passion you had for content creating in the first place.
What dropped the rating of this book for me was the Mirk family dynamic. While Eliza is a teenager going through puberty, complete with mood swings and irrationality, she treats her parents with a lot of hostility. Eliza’s parents are horribly out of touch and don’t understand their daughter’s passion for Monstrous Sea, but they aren’t bad people. They’re simply victims of stereotypical characterisation. I didn’t think they were written well. They saw Eliza but didn’t see her. That being said, I don’t think this can justify Eliza’s behaviour towards them and I didn’t feel this was adequately handled in the plot.
‘You found me in a constellation.’
Included in Eliza and Her Monsters is a minor romance plot. As someone who isn’t particularly fond of romance, particularly in YA as it tends to be packed full with cliches, I didn’t mind it. I quite enjoyed the dynamic Eliza and Wallace find themselves in. They bring out the best in each other. The book explores what can happen when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to take that risk and become close to someone, but end up extremely far down the rabbit hole that Eliza finds herself stuck in.
Overall, Eliza and Her Monsters has some solid mental health representation. It’s a book I think anyone who is – or was – a child of the internet will find relatable.