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There Are Monsters In The Sea

Francesca Zappia’s Eliza and Her Monsters is an exploration of mental illness, creativity and love, wrapped in a fandom package.

There Are Monsters In The Sea

BOOK REPORT for Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Cover Story: Mixed Media
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Non-Issue Issues
Bonus Factors: Online Friends, Tie-in Works
Anti-Bonus Factor: Unfamiliar Fandom
Relationship Status: Let’s Do This Again Soon

Cover Story: Mixed Media

Although I dig the paint-splattered hands of the young woman on the cover—I, too, get paint all over myself, even when I try my hardest not to—the art the main character of the book creates is a webcomic, not paintings. She sketches her panels out with pencil, but does all of her inking and colors on the computer, so it would have been more book-accurate if the smudges on the girl’s hands were charcoal or graphite-colored.

The Deal:

Eliza Mirk is a loner, and she’s happy(ish) that way. Her life doesn’t revolve around school or extracurricular activities. She’s content to be seen as a weird loner. It gives her more time to focus on her webcomic, Monstrous Sea … and its millions of fans, who expect new pages every week.

Eliza’s also more than OK with not having friends amongst her classmates. Until, that is, Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and reveals that he’s one of Monstrous Sea’s biggest and earliest fans.

Eliza wants to be honest with Wallace, but sometimes secrets get so big that they take on a life of their own.

BFF Charm: Eventually

Eliza is a major introvert and has severe anxiety issues, and she’d much rather fade into the background than ever be noticed. As both an introvert and someone who deals with anxiety, I completely understand the urge to go about life without drawing attention to yourself. Were we to meet in real life, I’m not sure that I would be able to draw Eliza out of her shell. But I think we could have something great if we met online and conversed solely through online forms of communication.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Eliza and Wallace’s relationship is a slow burn kind of swoon. Both of them deal with forms of mental illness, and it’s hard for either to put themselves out there for others in an offline setting. But a shared love of Monstrous Sea, and the patience and understanding they have for each others’ issues, makes them a truly unique and lovely YA couple.

Talky Talk: Non-issue Issues

Francesca Zappia has a gift for writing “flawed” characters who feel more real than many “normal” ones, and showing that just because someone deals with a mental illness doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person or should be locked away from society. Eliza and Wallace struggle, and sometimes they hide away from the world when it all gets to be too much, but they also have hobbies and passions that rival even the most extroverted of extroverts.

It’s always refreshing to see that YA authors are moving away from traditional issues books, and creating books filled with nuanced characters who might have their issues, but reflect much more of true humanity than before.

(Zappia first impressed me with her debut novel Made You Up, which peeks into the life of a young woman with schizophrenia.)

Bonus Factor: Online Friends

I’m lucky to be able to say that I have many friends. Some of these friends I see frequently in person, and some of them I’ve never physically met. Although the way these friendships work is different, neither is any better than the other. The friends I’ve made online are not lesser friends for us having never met, and I’ll never let anyone tell me that they aren’t true friends just because we’ve only ever chatted via social media and emails.

Bonus Factor: Tie-in Works

Peppered throughout Eliza and Her Monsters are drawings pulled from panels of Monstrous Sea (drawn by Zappia). Eliza is also a huge fan of an in-universe book series called The Children of Hypnos. Zappia is actually working on both of these projects outside of Eliza and Her Monsters; you can read the first Children of Hypnos book here and a teaser for Monstrous Sea here.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Unfamiliar Fandom

It can be hard to dive into a fandom after the fact, and can take a lot of time and effort to catch up. Reading about Monstrous Sea in Eliza and Her Monsters can be confusing, particularly because we’re not given enough background source material to understand much more than the most basic of details about the webcomic.

Casting Call:

Kaitlyn Dever as Eliza

Relationship Status: Let’s Do This Again Soon

I was really excited about our date, Book. And although it took a bit to coax you out of your shell, and sometimes you talked about things I didn’t quite follow, your enthusiasm was both endearing and contagious. I can’t wait until we can see each other again. In the meantime, I’ll be checking out the books and comics you mentioned so that our next convo can be a little more two-sided.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Greenwillow Books, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Eliza and Her Monsters is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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