Eliza and Her Monsters
“an original and charming story. . . . dramatic, emotional, and ultimately satisfying.”
“I go to school during the day, and at night I cast off my secret identity to become LadyConstellation, creator of one of the internet’s most popular webcomics, Monstrous Sea, and fearless mother of a fandom.”
Eliza and her Monsters is the charming, quirky story of Eliza Mirk, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular Monstrous Sea. Only six people know Eliza created the webcomic, specifically her parents, her younger brothers, and two online friends who help her run the website and fan forums, and she’s content to keep it that way. By day she’s a self-described weird kid that everyone ignores at school, and by night she’s a brilliant artist with a profound commitment to her fans.
This is an instantly appealing premise, one that feels fresh and exciting, and it delivers on its promises. Zappia delves into Eliza’s artistic life with loving detail, deftly capturing not just the beauty and brilliance of her creative process but also the ease with which passion slips into obsession, the depression that can lead to a complete loss of creativity, and the realities a devoted and demanding fanbase.
Fandom is explored in all its wonderful and sometimes ugly glory, and the premise also lends itself nicely to the inclusion of diverse and charming supporting characters.
Eliza’s struggle to balance her two very separate lives is believable and intensely relatable, especially as she battles the expectations of the people around her; of particular note is her parents’ belief that Monstrous Sea is little more than a hobby, completely unaware of its success, and Eliza’s struggle against their frequent attempts to get her to do something more worthwhile with her time is a conflict most readers will understand.
It is worth noting, however, that this is one example of a recurring theme in the novel that does occasionally make this story frustrating. Many of the novel’s conflicts could be avoided entirely if Eliza was more honest: with her skeptical but ultimately loving family, with the new friends she makes, with the boy she comes to love. Her choice over and over to keep the truth from them and sometimes to simply refuse to communicate at all is one that leads to almost all of the problems she encounters, and it is difficult sometimes to sympathize with that.
The crux of the story is the arrival at Eliza’s school of a boy who turns out to be a huge fan of Monstrous Sea and the forum’s most popular fan fiction writer. Wallace is a football player and talented writer with a painful past, a passion for his work, and an endearing desire to break past Eliza’s walls.
Eliza chooses to maintain her anonymity and presents herself to him as just another fan, which leads to him sharing with her his attempts to transcribe her webcomic into novel form. This is the shaky foundation upon which their relationship is built, and it’s inevitable from the start that Eliza’s secret threatens everything they have.
As the novel progresses, there are a few plot points that strike a jarring note. Wallace is offered a book deal for his transcription of Monstrous Sea, and he is subsequently furious when Eliza tells him she can’t finish the webcomic because his book deal is contingent on him being able to write the correct ending. This is an incredibly entitled way to behave given that this is ultimately her story and he has no real claim to it whatsoever, but the novel never actually addresses this or questions the fact that Wallace expects to profit financially from Eliza’s work, and this doesn’t fit seamlessly into a story that otherwise treats creativity and art with such love and respect.
On the whole, however, this is an original and charming story that readers will be able to see themselves in. The artwork and excerpts from Monstrous Sea scattered throughout the novel are a wonderful touch, and the climax and resolution of the story are dramatic, emotional, and ultimately satisfying.