I’ve been in the mood for some good contemporary YA recently, so I spent a little time browsing in the YA section of my library last week. I didn’t necessarily go in with a plan to get anything in particular (other than the Silvera that I just recently finished/reviewed) – I planned to just see what jumped out. First, let me just say that one of the perks of a small-ish town library is that there is usually not a long wait list for new releases. And on top of that, it meant that this particular browsing trip was incredibly successful. I found like 7 or 8 pretty new and very popular YA titles and it was a struggle to limit myself to just 3. In fact, in retrospect, I am impressed with my own self-restraint. In any case, this was one of the winners…
“Ideas are the asexual reproduction of the mind.”
This is the story of Eliza Mirk – creator of the hugely popular Monstrous Sea web comic (anonymously known at LadyConstellation in the online forums and fandom) and painfully shy and awkward high school senior. Her only two friends (and the only people who know her real identity) are online and she is ok with mediocrely (is that a word?) skating quietly through the last year of school and trying to restart herself in college. But then a new kid comes to school, Wallace. He is a huge MS fan (arguably the biggest one) and they bond over his fanfiction and her “fanart.” Both quiet, they find ways to communicate that make talking more comfortable and Eliza decides that perhaps trying a little more in real life could be worth it. But then something happens, the worst thing happens (in Eliza’s opinion), and her identity as LadyConstellation is leaked. The fallout she faces at school, in her family, with Wallace and, most challengingly, internally, threatens to break her and the world of MS.
There were so many things that I loved about this book. First, how current it is. With the technology of the present day, the omnipresence of the internet, this story really gets to the heart of being young today. There are so many positive sides to this interconnectedness and ready availability of communication, bringing together people that love the same things and providing refuge and support for those that cannot always make that happen in real life. However, there are many downsides as well, like the fact anonymity is so hard to maintain and so easy to lose, the inability to fully block the negative commentary and feedback, etc. And the portrayal of parents who did not grow up with the benefits/downsides of the internet, and are perhaps unable to completely grasp its role (partially because it is a concept nigh on impossible to explain) is spot on. The exploration of mental health and what a deterioration/breakdown looks and feels like was, while short, fairly realistic. And I was happy with the way it was written and how it (and the story overall) ended. Finally, I cannot get over the descriptions and role of Eliza’s brothers. I am also the oldest girl with two younger brothers, and I feel like Zappia nailed it. There were so many times growing up that I felt they were distant from me, as people, or I didn’t really know about them/what mattered to them. And of course they annoyed the crap out of me. But at the same time, and especially now that I’m older and looking back, the role they end up playing when the ball drops on Eliza’s identity is absolutely true and perfect. And it’s the part of the story that made me cry. I read it like 6 times. Love.
As far as writing and presentation, I thought that each of the voices were vibrant and quick and authentic. They were wonderfully geeky and self-conscious and I recognize real people in their cadence and words. I also loved (seriously, loved) the stylistic pieces of this novel. The sections set up like chat room discussions, the written conversations between Eliza and Wallace, the (rough, pre-published) sketches of comic pages, the final version/published pages from MS, the sections of what I assume are Wallace’s fanfiction and transcriptions of the MS story, the forum home page view/comment counts, the ads for MS gear. All of it added a phenomenal extra dimension to the story. I also enjoyed the challenge of working to piece together the characters and storyline of Monstrous Sea, at the same time that I was reading and following the story of our “real life” characters. I thought it was a really creative and layered reading experience.
This is a truly artistic ode to geekiness and fandoms – the family and security they can provide – and those that give them to us. It covers the dark side of these groups as well, in a way that really provides insight into the pressure on the creators, the joint responsibility on the artists and the fans to support each other, and what can happen when they don’t. And it does all that while painting an authentic picture of the unique challenges of being “weird” as a young adult today.