Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: 'Eliza and Her Monsters' by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters was one of those books that I added to my to-read list on Goodreads knowing that I may never get to it but it still sounded pretty good, so I left it there. Also, I disliked the cover. I dislike YA book covers (or any book covers, really) with live humans modeling for the cover. Eliza and Her Monsters only has somewhat of a live human with her face blurred holding out cartoon characters in her hands, so it's not quite the same as other covers I hate, but it still bugged me. YES, I KNOW, I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But anyone who says they go to the library or the bookstore and don't subconsciously judge books by their covers while they browse ARE LIARS. BIG, FAT LIARS.

Anyway, I had no intention of buying Eliza and Her Monsters but then, by chance, I found it on the YA new releases shelf at the library a few weeks ago and I had just finished the book I had on me so I figured, hey, why not, let's try it. I was also a little apprehensive because while I'd seen mostly positive reviews about the book, a lot of people thought it was just a Fangirl redux which, based on the premise, was not totally unbelievable. Even then, I still decided to try it. And, as things like this usually go, I was glad I did!

Eliza and Her Monsters is about a high school senior known in real life as Eliza Mirk but known online as LadyConstellation, the Internet-famous creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea. Online, Eliza feels at ease and at home. In the real world, she feels disconnected, uninspired and like everything is useless. Her parents, who are extremely realistically written, are portrayed as exercise-crazy health nuts who truly don't understand Eliza's inclination to live her life on the Internet. They know about Monstrous Sea but do not know or nearly understand how huge it is across the web, or how much money Eliza makes off of it (she sells merch and other things based off the comic). They're constantly telling her to put her sketchbook away or get off her phone and like "go outside and play" or some shit and it was honestly so realistically written. Then comes Wallace, a new kid at Eliza's school who she slowly begins to bond with after finding out he writes Monstrous Sea fanfiction in prose form. Eliza just doesn't know how to tell Wallace that she is actually the brain behind everything Monstrous Sea, and as they grow closer and begin dating, her secret might end up costing Eliza everything.

Let me say first: Eliza and Her Monsters is nothing like Fangirl. Similar, perhaps, but it is in no way a redux. They both tell very different stories, so if you think Eliza and Her Monsters will just be a predictable, unoriginal retelling of other YA books of its kind, it's not. This book truly captures what it's like to create a whole other world on the Internet as well as the discussion surrounding living life on the Internet and the fact that just because you've never met your Internet friends in person DOES NOT mean they're not your real friends. It also captures perfectly what it's like to not find what you're looking for in the "real world" which leads you to retreat into Internet communities to find people who understand you and what you're interested in, which I loved because RELATABLE. I'm an old soul. Always have been. I like things that people of my generation don't usually like or understand, so as a teenage introvert, it was often difficult to find people who understood my love of certain things, like certain TV shows, movies and music. Eventually, I discovered online communities and how welcoming they can be and before long I joined Twitter...and the rest is history, really. Twitter was where I could talk about whatever I liked to whoever wanted to listen and eventually I began to gain followers who wanted to hear what I had to say about stuff. During those first few months was when I made this blog that you're reading now, and all these years later I'm still writing about things I like to anyone who wants to listen! All of this to say, Eliza and Her Monsters paints a perfect portrait of what it's like to retreat into the Internet and why, in this day and age, life on the Internet can be just as important as life in the outside world (really though - the outside world? Ew. Who wants to live there?) It also captures a generation gap: kids who have grown up with the Internet understand that Internet life is just as important as the outside world to some - something their parents don't always comprehend.

In another regard, it's also a much darker book than you would expect. While there is lots of geeky fandom, fanfiction, fanart, cosplay and things of that nature, the story of Eliza's anxiety, relationships with those around her, and even suicidal thoughts, gives the novel a more serious and emotional edge. There is also another important angle of Eliza and Her Monsters that is poignantly and thoughtfully presented: the relationship between an artist and their fans (or anyone with a fan following, really). As Eliza became more popular online and gained a significant following, her fans began to expect her to consistently deliver what they love, which is pretty much what anyone with a fan following has to go through. The fans love it and want more, but that can also create pressure for the artists themselves and not everyone gets that. Moreover, her fans feel like Eliza owes them her art, which rings true in this age of social media where artists can receive comments, and not always positive ones. This opens an interesting discussion of whether or not artists truly owe anything to their fans. 

"Creating art is a lonely task, which is why we introverts revel in it, but when we have fans looming over us, it becomes loneliness of a different sort. We become caged animals watched by zoo-goers, expected to perform lest the crowd grow bored or angry. It’s not always bad. Sometimes we do well, and the cage feels more like a pedestal."

Eliza and Her Monsters is ultimately a very thoughtful and interesting entry into the YA genre. Anyone who is in a fandom or who has found themselves living online with Internet friends will appreciate it, and I recommend. 5/5 stars.

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