Hello everyone, and welcome back!
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a couple of new releases this month ahead of time, and this is one of them! Eliza and Her Monsters comes out May 30th. So let’s get into what I thought about it!
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
I’m kind of in love with this contemporary fandom romance trend, friends. Like I’m going to earnestly express a bias: I was super into fandom as a teen, I’ve loved many fandoms through my life, I presented conference papers about fandom culture when I was an academic—I’m a lifelong geek. Fandom is love.
Anyway, the premise of this one is that Eliza is the anonymous creator of an incredibly popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea, but she doesn’t really have a lot of friends IRL. Until a new boy comes to school who she finds writing fanfiction, and they bond over their love of Monstrous Sea.
The plot of this one is fairly predictable: a new boy shows up, it’s a romance, there’s a secret, etc. However, not unlike Alex, Approximately, Eliza and Her Monsters finds some depth in that it addresses mental health and some past trauma.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I love how the comic panels and transcriptions give us some insight into Eliza’s fandom world and the story she’s so invested in. I definitely felt her connection to her work, and the discussion of how creators relate to their fandoms and fans online was definitely interesting. The romance was cute.
And it’s just so dang relatable. Eliza’s best friends are from the Internet and they send each other care packages. If you are a geek of some stripe and you’ve ever had a hard time finding your place IRL or getting your family to understand what it is you’re so involved in, this book will speak to you.
But…yeah. I also feel this book tried to do too much. There’s the contemporary romance piece, Eliza’s world, the fandom, her two BFFs, her family (both parents and two brothers), and the mental health aspects competing for interest at the main plot level. Then there are her love interest’s friends that she meets, her love interest’s family, her favourite TV show, her favourite book series, subplots her friends are involved in, etc.
So there are about a million subplots going on in this book and although it’s not a short book, it’s not very long, so it doesn’t have a lot of time to develop everything. Given that, it prioritizes Eliza’s romance and giving us a peek at Eliza’s world, which is probably the smart choice. But that means that the main plot beats having to do with the fandom, Eliza’s BFFs, her family, and mental health stuff don’t really land as effectively, I think. (I really have no sense of Eliza’s parents other than that they’re sport nuts who don’t “get” her, so developments in their relationship with her aren’t that compelling to me. Similar notes re: her brothers; I want to care, but I don’t know them.)
Also because this book is trying to do a lot, anything it mentions outside of its couple of focuses (the romance, Monstrous Sea) is something I could tell as a reader would lead somewhere, so the book was mostly very predictable, other than developments I didn’t really bother to think about? (I wanted to care about what was happening to Eliza’s BFFs in their subplots, but…yeah.)
I was split on my feelings about the handling of mental health stuff. There were definitely some relatable portrayals/moments of anxiety, and I think many will find those aspects feel true to life.
But this book goes from zero to suicide mentions in a flash and I wasn’t exactly sure about how it handled depression/suicidal ideation. It didn’t throw me totally into a tailspin; it wasn’t immediately irksome like the slamming on medication in All the Bright Places or so much in Thirteen Reasons Why, for example, but I felt like maybe the groundwork there could’ve been laid more.
Anyway. Overall, I liked this book, and the author said Monstrous Sea exists (in some form that’s not available yet), and when that is ready for my consumption, I will definitely check it out.
But I might have actually liked this better as a duology, kind of as To All the Boys I Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You was planned out. (I wasn’t blown away by those books, so maybe not the best point of comparison, but I feel like the fleshing out of family life in those ones was great and a little more of that could’ve definitely helped here.) With a little more fleshing out of family, friends, Eliza and Wallace’s mental health stuff, and the actual fandom, I think that could’ve really worked.
How are you liking the contemporary fandom romances lately? Or what’s your favourite recent trend in YA? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!