Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – An Insightful Depiction of Online Community, Privacy, and Mental Health

Text: Eliza and her monsters, Francesca Zappia. Image: A sketch of a girl and a boy, facing each other, reading a book.

Blurb:

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.

Joce’s review:

Eliza Mirk is a high school student who lives in Indiana and anonymously writes and illustrates the famous webcomic Monstrous Sea, read by millions, as her online persona LadyConstellation. She feels out of place at her school and experiences anxiety, including social anxiety. She develops a close relationship to Wallace, who experiences selective mutism, and he seems to understand what it’s like feeling truly at home online and less so face to face. However, their friendship is somewhat one-sided because Eliza knows that he is the most famous Monstrous Sea fanfiction writer, but he does not know that Eliza is actually LadyConstellation. They communicate mostly online, and a budding relationship, whether it be friendship or romantic, that transpires mostly through written word, is my favorite.

A huge theme in ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS is Eliza finding space where she could be her authentic self, because she felt she could not do so at home or at school. First, she found this as LadyConstellation, spending years cultivating both a fictional world and an online community. Monstrous Sea helped her feel accomplished, unique, hard working, and proud of herself in the the time and brainpower it took to dream of and pen the characters and world. At the same time, she felt admired by and close to people she interacted with online for years. 

Second, she found a safe space in her relationship with Wallace, which was a new experience because while she appreciated her family and was somewhat close to them, she had never felt like she could completely be herself in their presence. We see her slowly and cautiously open up to Wallace. I found this particularly nuanced because they used online messaging, a medium in which she felt comfortable communicating, so she was able to establish their relationship there. Wallace was also most comfortable communicating online because he writes Monstrous Sea fanfiction. They empathized with each other because of their mental health experiences, which is something Eliza had not experienced before. It simultaneously scared and excited her because she felt listened to but also more vulnerable.

Eliza experiences a panic attack when her identity as LadyConstellation is revealed. This plot point was a huge turning point and I could feel the urgency and franticness in the narration as she feels the safety of her online world slip away from her. Part of her thought process stemmed from the fact that she already felt anxious about becoming more vulnerable in her relationship with Wallace and becoming close to someone she knew face to face, and that she was keeping her identity from him. It was as if she lost part of her identity and felt like she was spiraling with nowhere to land, as all of her safe spaces had been infiltrated. Some creators find it difficult to balance how much to reveal about their virtual presence to people they know face to face, as it can have ramifications on jobs and relationships. This struggle with balance was magnified here, and one outcome was illustrated well. I am also glad that Francesca Zappia did not end the story immediately after this reveal, as it was good for me and other readers to see the aftermath and any resolution.

While I have mostly talked about Wallace in a positive light, I did not agree with all of his actions, especially towards the end of the book. Eliza also had a complicated relationship with her parents, and, again, while I did not agree with everything they did, it was helpful to see that relationships can have many facets and different degrees of closeness can be fostered.

I would highly recommend ELIZA to anyone who passes negative judgment to those who find connection and community online. As we see through Eliza’s story, there are so many wonderful things that can be discovered through the Internet, including identity, inspiration, creativity, professional opportunities, and friendships. Like anything else, having a significant online presence should be reflected upon with regards to effects on mental health, positive and negative and everything in between.

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I felt immensely empathized with during parts of ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS, especially the depiction of anxiety’s relation with being an online creator. Eliza’s portrayal felt age appropriate, with the pressures of fitting in while maintaining privacy and identity in high school, where fitting in and having social support is of utmost importance.

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Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: Eliza Mirk is the anonymous author and illustrator of the famous webcomic Monstrous Sea, and after she becomes close to a Monstrous Sea fanfiction writer, her identity is accidentally revealed and she has to grapple with the aftermath.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Trigger/content warning: anxiety, panic, online harassment, suicidal ideation

6 thoughts on “Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – An Insightful Depiction of Online Community, Privacy, and Mental Health

  1. I love this review, Joce! Very well-explained. It sounds similar to Radio Silence (one of my all-time favorites!) with becoming friends with a fan and the unexpected revealing of online identity and the mental health rep in it. So, I’ll be sure to add this to my TBR and read it in the near future! 💛

    Liked by 1 person

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