I first got started reading graphic novels thanks to superheroes. Books like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Kingdom Come convinced me of the foI first got started reading graphic novels thanks to superheroes. Books like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Kingdom Come convinced me of the format. But recently it's been the non-superhero graphic novels that have piqued my interest. Books like The Arrival, American Born Chinese, and Blankets have taken the format in new and exciting directions. The most recent of these new finds was just published a few months ago: Vera Brosgol's graphic novel Anya's Ghost.
Anya is an American teenager who's struggling to fit in at the low-rent private school she attends. She's worked hard to overcome her Russian accent, her "weird" Mom, and she avoids her little brother. So that's to say, she's like most teenagers, frustrated by family and trying to make her own life. One day, as if that all isn't bad enough, she isn't watching where she's going, and stumbles into a hole. At the bottom of this deep pit she finds the bones--and the ghost--of Emily, a girl who was the victim of a violent crime in 1920. After Anya's rescued, Emily's ghost comes along for the ride, attached to Anya via a tiny finger bone that got caught in her bag.
Anya makes the bone into a sort of amulet, and Emily soon becomes a valuable companion. When you have a ghost as a best friend, it's easier to cheat on tests, stalk the boy you're interested in, and get invited to the best parties. Anya's star is rising, attached to Emily's disembodied spirit. To return the favor, Anya decides to help Emily solve her own murder, and uncovers more than she expected.
This graphic novel does everything right. The voices of Anya and her friends are contemporary and honest, often brutally so. It's not a squeaky clean book--the kids smoke and talk about sex and hate school--but it comes across as very accurate. The character of Anya is especially well thought-out, and seems at least somewhat autobiographical. Vera Brosgol herself moved to the United States from Russia as a child, and I imagine many of Anya's struggles are drawn from her own experience. Being haunted by a ghost--probably not. The mystery that Anya uncovers is interesting and suspenseful, and takes the book in an unexpected but logical direction.
The artwork is all black and white, and very stylized. I didn't know if I'd like it at first, but it's consistent, and within a few pages I was used to Brosgol's illustrations. The characters are cartoony and sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying. The facial expressions--especially on close-ups of Anya--are very readable and realistic, and add layers of depth to this girl who's trying to find her place in the world. With a ghost.
Anya's Ghost is somewhat unusual, having a female author and artist and girls as the main characters. This will turn off some boys and men, who dismiss it as something not worth their time somehow. To them, I say get over it and read it. It's a good, fun, creepy ghost story that's entertaining and worth your time.
This is a good read for teens, people who love the supernatural, or anyone who remembers how much high school kinda sucked. Having just attended my 20 year high school reunion yesterday, it was a nice refresher for me. If you're looking for a quick escape from the dog days of summer, Anya's Ghost is a fun book with enough chill to beat the heat.