First Lines: Eliza Mirk is the kind of name you give to the creepy girl who clings to her ex-boyfriend for weeks after he’s dumped her because she refuses to accept that he hates her guts. Eliza Mirk is a low-level villain with a secret hideout in the sewers. Eliza Mirk belongs in a comic book. But Eliza Mirk is me.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you may recall my love for Zappia’s debut novel, Made You Up, which deals with a girl with schizophrenia. It was a beautifully written novel. And when I knew this was coming out, I was very interested to see how it would measure up to the previous novel.
In the real world, Eliza is weird. She’s shy, maybe a bit creepy, and definitely a loner. But online, she’s the creator of the massively popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. And because her online life is so amazing, she has no reason to try to make her real life any better…until Wallace. When Wallace Warland moves to her school, she finds a kindred spirit. A huge Monstrous Sea fan and fanfiction writer, Wallace manages to draw Eliza out of her shell and she begins to wonder if life offline can be just as awesome as online. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she cares about–Monstrous Sea, her relationship with Wallace, her family–starts to fall apart…
I was not disappointed. Zappia does her homework when it comes to the mental health issues she uses in her books and she writes about it in a realistic way so you can feel it too. This was very well done.
Also, you know what this reminds me of? Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. There are a number of similarities between Eliza and Cath, though obviously there are a lot of differences as well. But I think if you’re cool with Fangirl, you’ll probably like this as well. This is maybe a little less heavy on the fandom stuff and a little heavy on mental health issues.
Eliza is an antisocial artist. For years, she’s been working on a webcomic that became big. And no one knows she’s the artist, just the way she likes it. Eliza is not perfect, which is the way I like protagonists. She’s seriously closed off, a bit selfish, and definitely has trouble communicating with anyone if she can’t talk to them via the internet. But it was relatable. As an introvert myself, I got it. I understood that need to have a few moments to think through your answers before you say important things out loud. I understood that need to get away from people and settle in somewhere alone to work on your own projects.
And the other characters are equally imperfect and well-written. You can tell that almost everyone means well, and the ones who don’t still have redeeming moments. But it’s the emotion that gets you. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that hit me that hard right in the feels. This one was raw. The last like 50 pages left me struggling for my composure.
Sometimes, it was almost too raw. A couple of the characters (I won’t say who) deal with anxiety and panic attacks. And as someone who deals with mild anxiety of her own, there were some scenes that were almost too well-written because my own anxiety started to flair up. But I managed to get over it quickly enough. Still, that was a surprise.
This is beautifully written and such an accurate portrayal of what it means to have anxiety, among so many other things. Zappia is, I think, doing so much for bringing mental health issues to the forefront by creating real characters who show you that this is just a part of their life and they still struggle with all the same things (boys, school, family) that you do. I’m really starting to love her for that.