John Wiswell's Reviews > Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
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Dec 01, 11

Read in November, 2011

The first two thirds of Anya’s Ghost are amongst the most winning of anything I’ve read this year. Brosgol jumps into familiar portrayals of cynical teens, tempering their shortsightedness with humor, humility and sympathy. Her art is drawn from an extremely deep violet that so often resembles black and white that key uses, like in the eyes of a popular blonde, nearly pop off of the page. She excels at emoting through her simple faces, greatly assisting her dialogue and adding some punch to the many scenes of realization as Anya adjusts to life with a ghost best friend.

Claims of realism in Anya’s Ghost are funny. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, a ninety-year-old dead teenager wouldn’t acclimate to our culture this quickly. Just because Anya smokes cigarettes and loathes the awkwardness of Russian church doesn’t make this naturalist fiction. Instead, it’s a well-rounded cartoon world, with a suitably adorable brother who keeps hunting for dinosaur bones around the property, a needless antagonistic best friend, an impossible gym class, and some harmful hormonal boys. Rather than shooting for naturalism, the comic achieves honesty to the experience of its fictional lead. She is smart but lazy, empathetic but selfish, dismissive but funny. Some of her flaws, including her unconscious proclivity for using people or ditching others in need, including her ghostly friend, go unfortunately unaddressed. Yet the ride is a wonderful one. I laughed at least six times, getting at least two strangers to glare at me, before reaching the final act.

It’s a shame that the last third of the book turns into a half-hearted Horror story. Rather than growing, there are revelations that simply go against all their earlier characterizations. Drama takes over, which gets particularly annoying when you feel these characters could have talked things out. Characters change drastically and disappointingly, but it’s not just the people involved.

Rather, the comic morphs into something much more conventional. That effacing humor of people who fall on their faces in uncoordination, or that argue over who owes who cigarettes, vanishes into lamentable fighting and sweeping monologues on the way life works. It doesn’t belong in what has been such a personal and personable story. Essentially two thirds of this was quirky life that included a ghost; the last third is judgment and hyperbolic villainy.

What tore it for me is the close. You realize that there are at least two teens who desperately needed someone to reach out to them, and they have ceased to exist in the climax and epilogue. Their inclusion would have been so easy. Cathartic scenes could have been the most powerful in the book. Perhaps if Anya’s Ghost was a series, they could have had their time, just as the switch to Horror wouldn’t have seemed so drastic.
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