Published by Greenwillow Books on May 30th, 2017
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza 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. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.
This book was incredible. I’ve been so excited for this for such a long time, and I’m happy to report that it lives up to its every promise. Eliza and Her Monsters was honest, passionate, and the kind of book whose themes and ideas will linger for a long time after you’ve closed the back cover.
I’m the kind of person who lives on the internet. I grew up as the first generation of kids to have internet access. First it was webTV, then AOL chat rooms, eventually leading to social media like MySpace and Facebook. In between there were communities on LiveJournal, Xanga, or forums dedicated to one specific hobby, philosophy or fandom. It’s through these mediums that I met the people I call my best friends. I grew up during the age when strangers on the internet were Dangerous and probably a predator, and I have to say, I’m so glad that idea is no longer mainstream. Just because my friends are hundreds of miles away doesn’t mean they aren’t REAL friends. That’s one of the main messages in this book and its why I could relate to Eliza herself so much. Her two best friends live in her phone, basically, but she talks with them every day and the three of them know each other inside and out, better even than Eliza’s own family. I think that can be said for a lot of us, especially those of us living with mental health issues, anxiety, and just simply being introverted.
That being said, Eliza wasn’t exactly a character I liked. We have a lot in common, of course, and I can relate to her a lot. Feeling like an outsider in your own home, being interested in things that are considered weird or nerdy. Hiding a lot of yourself from your family for fear of being judged, or worse. I get those emotions and I understand that point of view. I understand anxiety and panic and fear. But there’s a lot about Eliza that also grated on me, especially how rude she was. I know someone personally who is a lot like Eliza and some of the behaviors they share really just rub me the wrong way, especially just staring at people when they ask you a question or screaming and yelling for literally no reason. Like I said: I HAVE ANXIETY. Mental illness is no excuse to treat the people around you like shit. It was a relief when Eliza finally learned this lesson, but it was not easy dealing with her all the while.
But that doesn’t at all mean I disliked the book! In fact, I loved it! It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read all year, and is the kind of book that really gets you thinking about your own thought patterns and behaviors. One particular issue that hit home for me was Eliza’s relationship with her fans. Eliza is the creator of a seriously popular webcomic. She’s extremely dedicated to her art as well as her anonymity. She fiercely protects her identity and once that protection is ripped away, it’s so clear why. Now her fans have access to her in a way that can’t be shut off. And those fans, no matter how well-meaning they may be, are demanding. And this really calls into question the way we treat the creators of the things we love. Just take a look at twitter at the end of an episode of The 100 and you can see what I mean. Fans demand so much, all of the time, and I’m sure that can be terrifying, exhausting, and soul-killing. We fans really need to take a lesson from this book in how we approach (and even if we should approach) the creators of our favorite media.
I have to say it: Eliza and Her Monsters is just beautiful as a physical book. From the cover design, all the way to the mixed media pages inside, it’s just gorgeous. I loved the inclusion of Eliza’s art and of Wallace’s transcriptions of Monstrous Sea. These pages really, really made me want to read the comic. Like, so bad. I loved the inclusion of texts, messages, forum posts, etc. They really brought Eliza’s world to life in a way just prose couldn’t.
Now, I would have rated this book 5 stars if not for the inclusion of one single chapter: the one where Eliza visits a therapist. The author made a style choice that I’m not sure I agree with. The entire chapter was written in dialogue. There was absolutely no description to be found, so it was like a 10 page conversation between Eliza and her therapist. I was ripped right out of the book for one reason: I’ve seen this before in exactly ONE book, Second Position by Katherine Locke. She wrote all the therapy sessions in just dialogue conversations and it was extremely effective. She wrote blog pieces on it, it’s mentioned on the publisher’s website. It’s a Thing. I’d never seen it before or since, so seeing it here was SO JARRING, and it made me reflect on exactly what the point of the chapter was, and I came to the conclusion that it absolutely wasn’t needed and didn’t further the character development at all. A shame.
Eliza and Her Monsters was the first book for a while that made me cry. Like actually full-gut sobbing, had to put the book down for a while just to breathe. It’s really not an easy read at all, especially if you’ve ever been remotely close to these situations. Eliza feels like she’s drowning, like she’s being crushed under the weight of everyone’s expectations, like she’s the worst person in the world and everyone would be better off without her.
It’s gut-wrenching at times. It’s laugh out loud funny at others. If you have any connection with fandom or you met your friends on the internet or you know what it’s like to sit alone at lunch, this could very well be your next favorite book.