You know that a book has captured your heart when you cry while reading it. The teenage contemporary Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is a book that recently captured my heart. Offline, Eliza Mirk is a friendless high school student who has become known to her peers as the “school weirdo”. Online, she is “LadyConstellation”, the anonymous creator of one of the internet’s most read web-comics, Monstrous Sea. As she finishes her final year of high school, she is also finishing the final chapters of Monstrous Sea, but when the world suddenly learns that the anonymous LadyConstellation is actually Eliza Mirk, not only are both her offline and online lives destroyed, but even her very sanity becomes endangered.
To put it simply, I loved reading this novel and I would most certainly recommend it, particularly to those who are passionate about an art. Eliza herself is an artist and I, as a writer, related with much of what she said about her passion. I do not doubt that many others would be able to do so as well. I think that it was when I read the quote, “I made Monstrous Sea because it’s the story I wanted. I wanted a story like it, and I couldn’t find one, so I created it myself,” that this novel began speaking to me on a personal level. This is the saying that every writer I know lives by, “Write the book that you want to read.” Never before have I read a book that so realistically portrayed the relationship that I and so many others have with art. For many of us who are passionate about an art, it becomes our lives. As is said to Eliza, “You are able to see who your brothers are, separate from what they do and accomplish, but you have trouble doing the same for yourself.” We are worthless without our art. Perhaps our passion is obsessive and will destroy us but that is the question that this novel wants us to answer for ourselves. Can an artist become so obsessed with their art that it destroys them?
This novel, while it celebrates the arts and it encourages us to embrace our passions, more than anything wants to warn us not to become too passionate, lest we allow that which we love to become what destroys us. This is a captivating theme in and of itself, but it is not the only one that is discussed. The theme of mental illness, including suicide, is the other. Some readers may be particularly sensitive to this material and should not read this book because of that. But for other readers, this book provides a respectful and educational portrayal of mental illness within several characters. Eliza, herself, seems to suffer from either a social phobia or social anxiety, something else that I and many others can relate to. What I think the best part of this novel is, is the conclusion wherein we learn what the monsters are in the title Eliza and Her Monsters. When they begin the novel, readers will think that the title is referring to the monsters in Eliza's web-comic, Monstrous Sea, but this is not true. It is referring to the monsters that Eliza has to learn to live with in her real life and I love how, even at the end of the novel, Eliza has learned to live with them but is not "cured" of them. As someone who suffers from a social phobia that was once somewhat serious, I can say that I do not think that I will ever be cured of it. But I have learned to live with it and, at the end of the day, I think that that is what everyone who has a mental illness wants. Maybe we won't ever be cured of our illnesses but that is not truly a bad thing as long as we learn how to live with them and be happy despite them.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is a novel that I began to read one night and, despite the fact that I was tired and wanted to sleep, I became so captivated by it that I stayed awake to two o’clock in the morning to finish it. As I said earlier, I most certainly recommend it to those who are passionate about an art for its realistic portrayal of what it is like to love your own creations so dearly. I would also recommend it to those who want to read a respectful portrayal of mental illness. When you read a book about something that you should be able to relate to but cannot do so because the author has written it in an unrealistic or disrespectful manner, it is an awful feeling. But when you find one that is written as though it were real, and you can easily step into the shoes of its main character, it is truly a book to be treasured.