Book Review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia cover

Eliza and Her Monsters
by Francesca Zappia 

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: May 30th 2017
Rating: Entering the fandom

Eliza and Her Monsters is the story of seventeen-year-old Eliza who lives a whole secret life online as the creator of a wildly successful webcomic Monstrous Seas.  I read this book in one sitting.  Francesca Zappia just seems to know how to do it for me. I loved Made You Up and although Eliza has an entirely different tone I enjoyed it as well.

Fandoms to me are tricky.  I always question what it means to be truly a fan of something.  Does that love have to be public in some way? Am I a real fan if I never talk about my love online? Am I really a fan of anything? I had a whole conversation with a friend about this, and she just laughed and said that I might just be overthinking things a tad. Who me? Never.  The online fandom world 

It was almost impossible for me to read this book and not compare it to Fangirl.  I love Rainbow Rowell, but I enjoyed Eliza and her Monsters more than Fangirl.  I think for primarily two reasons: 1) I live Eliza much more than I like Cat and 2) I was more intrigued with Monstrous Seas than with Simon Snow's world.  I haven't even read Carry On, but I have already googled Monstrous Seas to see if it was a real thing.  Sadly, it does not seem to be.

There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt.
The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster though, is smart. It’s always watching, and when I am cmpletely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and lets it run wild. even when I know it’s coming, I can’t stop it.

I really liked Eliza.  Her utter disdain for anything having to do with high school and socializing in person felt real to me.  I recognized her. She was funny, vulnerable, and just bitter enough to remain likable.  She is a hard worker and very goal-orientated. It is easy to see how she became successful.  It isn't enough to have the ideas or to put out content.  Her grasp of quality control that is superior to many adults.  She has a distance relationship with her brothers.  She loves them, but as they grow older, it seems that she has less and less in common with them.  I related strongly to this as I have the same sort of, "We're related.  But How?" relationship with my siblings.

I liked her with Wallace. He was often the softer and more vulnerable character, and when she is with him, she has to stretch slightly beyond what she is usually comfortable with. I was firmly in their camp.  No breaking up for you two. I mean it.  You are together forever now... I do wish that there was more of an exploration of his background and issues, but I understand why it didn't happen.

One thing that I was not so impressed with was Eliza's parents. They are supposed to be 25 years older than she is making them in their early forties.  They are completely clueless about all things internet and tech. They don't understand what it means to be internet famous or that Eliza has an adult level income coming in because of it. The excuse is that they are old and so incapable of understanding it.  *sideeye 1) no 2) your child spends 80% of her time online. Figure out what she is doing and make sure she is safe. #beaparentdammit 3) this is the opposite of the "digital native" argument and makes me want to scream and scream 4) no again. Eliza's parent's general incompetence causes me to make a sour face thinking about it, but it didn't ruin the book for me. 

Eliza and her Monsters is another solid book by Francesca Zappia.  I liked the writing, the characters stand up on their own, the content is well-researched, and it was genuinely fun to read.  

Do you have strong feeling about how online fandoms are represented?  Do you notice and cringe when an author gets it wrong?

Book Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You Up cover

Made You Up
by Francesca Zappia
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Release date: May 19th, 2015
Rating: coverly love

First: Look at that cover.  Look. At. It. It is beautiful and I want a print of it for my walls.  There has got to be an etsy shop for this kind of thing.  *franticly googles

Alex Ridgemont is going to school for the first time as a seventeen-year-old high school senior.  She has been struggling with schizophrenia for the last ten years but finally her therapist and her mother decide that she is ready for high school.  And not just any high school but possible the trippiest, weirdest high school ever.  From the entire student body being irrationally terrified of one boy to the Principal’s creepy obsession with a scoreboard, nothing at her new school is quite right. 

The unreliable narrator factor of this book is something that actually slipped my mind until almost halfway through.  She is schizophrenic so of course what she is seeing is suspect.  Even after I remembered this I was never quite able to figure out what was real and who was not. The imagery in the book, like the cover, is stunning. 

Mental illness isn’t hard to find in books. And while I cannot vouch at all for the accuracy of the portrayal in this book I can say that it certainly made me experience the terror, frustration, pain, and sometimes even the beauty of not knowing if what you are seeing is real or only in your head.  The first person narration perfectly conveys that here. I loved Alex.  There was a sharpness and a toughness about her that kept her from become the “manic pixie dream girl”.  I found her funny and charming in a way that doesn’t often happen.

“I was diagnosed a thirteen. Paranoid got tacked on about a year later, after I verbally attacked a librarian for trying to hand me propaganda pamphlets for an underground communist force operating out of the basement of the public library. (She'd always been a very suspect type of librarian--I refuse to believe donning rubber gloves to handle books is a normal and accepted practice, and I don't care what anyone says.)”

On the other hand her parents were awful.  First, why was her father in South Africa without them?  Second, was her mother actually trying to make Alex worse?  I know that parenting a teenager isn’t the easiest thing in the world and parenting a teenager with a mental illness that much more difficult.  But come on!  Gage your audience.  Your paranoid schizophrenic daughter is probably not the most appropriate target for your passive aggressive siege.  Poor decision making throughout the book.

“There is no force in high school more powerful than one person's blunt disagreement.”

Then there is the German love interest! Ah, Miles! This is important because there really aren’t enough of them.  Also, my love interest is German so I am, you now, a little biased.  I like how he was never the uber hot bad boy.  He was sort of this extreme social outcast which made his character much unstable feeling.  You were never quite sure where he was going to fall.   To be honest there were a couple of times when I was a little afraid that he was going to shoot us the school.  There was just that much repressed rage and social miscues going on with Miles. He was not an easy character to like but he definitely worked.

This book kept me thinking, entertained me, and was well worth the time to read. I will be looking out for Francesca Zappia’s next book.

From Goodreads:
Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. 

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.