Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Let me just start out by saying that Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorites, so when I heard that Eliza and Her Monsters has a similar feel to it, I immediately picked it up.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a young adult contemporary novel that follows the main character Eliza, who is a social outcast at school, but an online phenomenon under her pseudonym LadyConstellation for her wildly popular graphic novel series Monstrous Seas. When a new boy, Wallace, joins her school, she discovers that he is one of the most popular fanfiction writers for her online series. They become fast friends, but Eliza keeps her identity secret, even to Wallace.

This is the premise of the novel and even the plot is very reminiscent of Fangirl. I’d describe Eliza and Her Monsters as an almost exact mix between Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, in theory. I say ‘in theory’ because it falls a little bit short of the magic that Rowell captures in her novels.

What this novel does really well is highlight and honor the online fandom communities and the creative minds and storytellers involved in these communities. The book highlights what it is like to create a world and then get so completely engrossed in this world as you create it, that you lose track of time and the real world around you.

Additionally, I like that the characters are flawed. None of the characters are perfect (or even close) and the main characters, Eliza and Wallace, both have major demons that they are dealing with that drastically affect the way that they live their lives. I found this really engaging, but also very reminiscent of the romance in Eleanor & Park.
This is your SPOILER ALERT. I am going to go into a more indepth review that will discuss more of the story, so if you are sensitive to spoilers, stop here, go read the book if you want, and come back.

While I overall enjoyed this book (and finished it in only a few days), I had some major issues with it that contributed to my not liking it as much as I was hoping to.

I think my first big issue that I found with this book was that it felt young, not because the characters were young, but because the main character acted very immaturely throughout the whole novel and it bugged me. Eliza has so much teen angst and is CONSTANTLY complaining about how her parents ‘just don’t get it’ or ‘get her’. Towards the end of the novel, Eliza’s younger brother points out that Eliza never made the effort to try to explain it to them and even hid her success from them, which is fine if that is what she wants to do, but then she can’t go around complaining that her parents don’t get her. It just had a lot of unnecessary teen angst on Eliza’s part.Eliza complains about her parents and her family life a lot, but even she points out that she has it a lot better than most and when you actually look at her family dynamic, it is about as healthy as a family with teenagers get.  Later on in the novel, the author starts to attribute some of Eliza’s angst to anxiety, but it seemed almost like an afterthought.

In fact, the entire ending of the novel seems like an afterthought. Everything at the end seems rushed and underdeveloped and don’t even get me started on Eliza and Wallace’s ‘make up’. The way that the novel portrayed and discussed suicide was my biggest problem with the ending of this book. No, actually not just the ending of the book, it was my biggest problem with the whole book. There is this whole falling out between Eliza and Wallace, that honestly seems like it is a way bigger deal than it should be. I mean, yes, I understand that the whole situation is not ideal and that Wallace was hurt and embarrassed that Eliza hadn’t told him who she was, but honestly, the novel portrayed it as the END OF THE WORLD.

Which leads to the discussion on suicide. There is no indication or hint that Eliza may be suicidal throughout the whole novel. She never really fit in at school, but that doesn’t make her suicidal and her anxiety that is thrown in at the end is also pretty underdeveloped (but nevertheless never linked to any potential suicidal tendencies). So then,  Eliza gets mad that Wallace isn’t forgiving her and drives to this turn in the road where there are a whole bunch of car accidents and starts trying to pump herself up to kill herself. And then right at the PERFECT TIME, Wallace comes up and is like ‘oh my god, I’m so sorry, I forgive you, don’t kill yourself’. And she doesn’t. Which really pisses me off. And I’m not pissed that she doesn’t kill herself, I’m mad that the novel even takes it to that place. Because the message to the reader is blatently clear: Your boyfriend is mad at you and won’t forgive you. You threaten to kill yourself. He apologizes and takes you back. That is a TERRIBLE message. Suicide is just used in this book as a plot device to crank up the drama without actually really considering the mental and emotional complexities that surround suicide.

The use of suicide as a plot device at the end of this novel summed up generally how the ending of the novel was done. Things were written very dramatically, but everything was really underdeveloped and I was left feeling annoyed at the picture-perfect ending instead of content because the road to get there was not really paved at all. It was like things went from being super dramatic, everything is terrible, all of Eliza’s will to do anything is gone to everything being great in all facets of her life.

All in all, I did enjoy reading this book, I just had some major problems with the last 100 pages.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31931941-eliza-and-her-monsters

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