ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS by Francesca Zappia
Reading this book was like seeing my own high school experience unfold on the page, which was as cathartic and disconcerting as you can imagine. I mean, there are differences – I wasn’t a talented webcomic artist with millions of followers, I didn’t spend all my time on my smartphone because smartphones weren’t a thing yet, thank god, and I put more effort into my schoolwork than Eliza did – but still. Using the internet as a coping mechanism against crippling social anxiety? Caring more about my fandom and my online life than my real life? All of my closest friends living in different places around the world? Check, check, check.
What I found so remarkable about Eliza and Her Monsters was that it’s at once a celebration of internet culture, and also a cautionary tale against letting your online persona consume you, and I think that’s a very important message for teens. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. But, as with everything, balance is key. That’s where Eliza is such a phenomenal protagonist. She’s someone that so many people can relate to: she’s insecure, she’s anxious, she escapes into her art, she loves her friends; she’s flawed and all the more compelling for that fact. But this isn’t a story about her journey to overcome anxiety and abandon the internet in favor of the ‘real world’; it’s just about Eliza learning how to reconcile these two halves of herself, LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the webcomic phenomenon Monstrous Sea, and Eliza Mirk, awkward soon to be high school graduate.
The only thing I disliked about this book was Eliza’s love interest, Wallace. Their friendship/relationship rubbed me the wrong way throughout the book, sort of for vague personal reasons, but he really lost me with his behavior at the end. Fortunately, their relationship didn’t take center stage: this book was about Eliza, first and foremost, and that’s why I feel like I can give this 5 stars despite my hatred of one of the two main characters (though I’d give it 4.5 if half stars were a thing on Goodreads). The supporting characters were all fantastic – I especially loved Eliza’s brothers, Sully and Church.
All in all, a really terrific and thoughtful book that I enjoyed immensely.