“I learned years ago that it’s okay to do this. To seek out small spaces for myself, to stop and imagine myself alone. People are too much sometimes. Friends, acquaintances, enemies, strangers. It doesn’t matter; they all crowd. Even if they’re all the way across the room, they crowd. I take a moment of silence and think: I am here. I am okay.” Eliza and Her Monsters | Francesca Zappia | Page 120
Eliza and Her Monsters is all about fandom, first love, and what it means to socialise in the digital age. Titular character Eliza Mirk has two distinct sides to her personality. Online, she’s Lady Constellation; the talented and anonymous creator of one of the world’s most popular webcomics, Monstrous Sea. In her every day life, she’s a high school student with an average family, and not much interest in the world around her. Much to her parent’s annoyance, Eliza’s social life takes place entirely online, her closest friends are admins of the Monstrous Sea fan forums, though she’s never met them in real life. However, Eliza’s life starts to change dramatically when she meets her new classmate, Wallace Warland. Just like Eliza, Wallace is quiet and prefers to keep to himself. He also happens to write Monstrous Sea fanfiction. A friendship develops between the two characters when Wallace sees some of Eliza’s sketches and assumes she’s just another Monstrous Sea fan, like himself. Thus Eliza faces a dilemma: should she admit who she is to Wallace, or continue keeping her identity a secret?
There are a lot of things to love about this book. The romance between Eliza and Wallace is cute, the artwork scattered through out the pages is amazing, and the book is overall entertaining and easy to read. However, what I loved most about Eliza and Her Monsters was the way it explored (and showed appreciation for) online friendships. The opening line of the book’s dedication reads “for my friends, online and off”, and I think this is very appropriate. As an introverted and socially anxious person, Eliza struggles to make friends in the real world. She doesn’t like making eye contact, drawing attention to herself, or even really leaving her bedroom. Online, Eliza doesn’t have to worry about these things, thus she’s able to forge deep connections with the people she talks to through her website. Though Eliza’s world starts to open up when she meets Wallace, she doesn’t give up on her online friends, or view them as any less important than the real life friends she makes through Wallace. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before that explored the theme of online friendships, though it’s definitely something that resonated with me.
My only real complaint about this book is that I would have liked to see Eliza and Wallace’s mental health issues explored in greater depth (Eliza experiences anxiety, and Wallace is selectively mute). I wouldn’t say Zappia glazes over these issues, but I would say that she under-emphasises how much they can impact an individual. There’s also little attention paid to the medical treatments Eliza and Wallace receive for their problems. As someone who experiences social anxiety, I feel like Eliza was really only just beginning her journey towards recovery as the book ended, and I would have liked to read about what it was like for her to begin medication and see a psychologist. Just because for me, personally, those things were just as scary and challenging as receiving an initial diagnosis.
Overall though, I loved the way Eliza and Her Monsters celebrated the world of fandoms, geek culture, and online frienships! I’d recommend the book to those who enjoyed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde.