Eliza’s kind of a big deal online, as in web-comic famous, but no one knows who she really is. Until she mets Wallace: a real-life friend, and maybe more, who doesn’t yet know how that the creator of the web comic he writes fanfiction for is sitting right next to him at the lunch table. Eliza and Her Monsters is an exploration of fandom and art and finding yourself with a dash of mental health, teen romance, and angsty technology drama thrown in.
I learned about Eliza and Her Monsters when it was included in an OwlCrate box sometime last year, but I didn’t get that box, so I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and kept it in the back of my mind. Everyone in the Owlcrate FB group raved about the book, so it wasn’t like I was going to forget about it, but I didn’t purchase the book until it was on sale on Kindle for $1.99 or something in September 2017. And I didn’t read it until March 2018. Whoops. But when I finally did read it, I flew through it, and I think you will too!
The story goes something like this, as Amazon puts it:
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. Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds meets Nimona in this novel about art, fandom, and finding the courage to be yourself. Features illustrations by the author throughout. Perfect for readers of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, this is the second novel by the acclaimed author of Made You Up. 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.
I’m not even going to pretend that I’ve ever read a web comic, or a regular comic book for that matter, but that didn’t matter because I was wholly invested in Eliza’s story anyway. As a writer, I could relate to having your baby, something you created, and while I don’t have fame and fortune and millions of readers, having her as a character, especially narrating in the first person, something so tangible to readers and writers and artists and designers felt read and authentic.
The friendship/romance with Wallace was really interesting. I liked the slow-progression that reflected what real-life is like for both high schoolers and just awkward young adults and didn’t speed up right to ACOTAR-style sex. Spoiler alert: no sex here. HoweverI loved the comments Eliza’s mom makes about birth control and going to the gyno and all that and how petrified Eliza is. That felt so authentic.
Back to Wallace for a second. It was definitely hard to get a read on him sometimes, and we learn about why he doesn’t talk much and all that later in the book, but I was still trying to figure out if there was something else there. Maybe that’s me reading too much into the book, because I kept hearing about how it was a mental health awareness-type book, so I went into it with that lens. I was surprised by how little mental health seemed to play a part in the majority of the book though. Sure, the ending is important for both Eliza and Wallace and their mental health, but Eliza doesn’t even realize her anxiety/panic disorder til much later on, and while I as a reader was tuned in to it coming, it wasn’t as “central” to the plot as I thought. She just felt like a normal, awkward teenage girl to me for most of the book.
Overall, I think this is a great book for people who love fandoms and need to realize their favorite authors are actual people too. Sure, you’re pissed at George RR Martin for not finishing Winds of Winter this decade, but he is just a man. Maybe now I’ll stop passive-aggressively tweeting about my impatient wait for the next Cormoran Strike novel. Creators are people too, even if the people on the internet don’t realize it. That was my biggest takeaway from this book.