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The Girl and the Ghost

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I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.

280 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2020

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About the author

Hanna Alkaf

12 books904 followers
I write unapologetically Malaysian YA and MG.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 758 reviews
Author 12 books904 followers
May 21, 2020
Hi everyone! It's the author here.

One of my pet peeves as a reader is when an author doesn't own up to their mistakes and tries to gloss over it like nothing happened. I don't want to do that. So here goes:

In the ARCs of THE GIRL & THE GHOST, in the part of the book near the beginning where Suraya and the ghost, whom she names Pink, finally meet, there is a scene where the language used by Pink mimics that of abusers and groomers. It speaks to my own privilege and sheltered upbringing that I did NOT even realise this until it was pointed out to me by an author friend who was reading an early copy -- shoutout to the wonderful and wise Aisha Saeed! -- and when she did, I was ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED. I immediately contacted my editor and rewrote that entire scene, because the last thing I want in the world is to cause harm to young readers with the things I write, even unintentionally.

All this to say, I deeply apologise if this bit of the book was distressing or triggering for you in any way; please know that it HAS been changed, and the final copies reflect that.

Thanks for reading!
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 5 books13.5k followers
May 3, 2021
"The most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil."

It's the balance between humour and horror for me. Be warned, this book is darker than you might expect and even I, teetering the line between Gen Y and Millenial, was scared at times. And yet, there are also many hilarious moments. It's probably the first book I read where I wasn't bothered by characters talking in ALL CAPS because it just worked. This is an exceptional Middle Grade book that talks abuse, toxic relationships and loss, as well as friendship, family and courage.

Find more of my books on Instagram
Profile Image for may ➹.
471 reviews1,898 followers
September 14, 2021
I love listening to fantasy audiobooks because I’ll accidentally tune out for a few seconds and the next thing I know they’re talking about some creepy jar thing holding a baby’s corpse

short rtc
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,089 reviews6,595 followers
November 10, 2020
"The most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil."

representation: Muslim Malay MC (own voices), Chinese side character.

[trigger warnings are listed at the bottom of this review and may contain spoilers]


Loved learning all about Malay culture and folklore in this one! It was also wayyyyy creepier and darker than I expected, so be warned if you're recommending it to a younger reader!

trigger warnings: death, bullying, maggots, broken bones, nightmares including cannibalism, body horror, cockroaches.
Profile Image for CW ✨.
631 reviews1,689 followers
November 8, 2020
Oh my goodness, The Girl and the Ghost is the story I wish I had as a young diaspora Malaysian reader.
I love this book with my whole heart and this is easily a new favourite book.

- Follows Suraya, a Muslim Malay girl who lives in a kampung (village) and inherits a pelesit, a ghost whom she names Pink, from her witch grandmother. When Pink's nature and a greedy pawang (shaman) threatens the two, they must solve the mystery of Pink's past to survive.
- Where do I even begin? I loved everything about it. It was spooky, haunting, despite the chills it sometimes gave me, it also had warm and tender moments. I loved how this book explores friendship, loneliness, revenge, jealousy, and toxic relationships, in a way that younger readers can understand.
- I can't get over how the ghost's name is Pink. PINK. And as funny and strange it may seem, it works so well in the context of the story and Suraya's growth as a character.
- The writing in this is wonderful, beautiful, and such a delight to read. The Girl and the Ghost feels like a folktale, told by an older relative to scare you into behaving (and I say that with the utmost affection.)
- The ending! I truly did not expect it and... perhaps I cried on the plane. Wow! What an unforgettable way to end a story.
- True to Hanna's foreword, this book made me hungry. This made me crave the Malaysian food that I had when I visited family years ago.

Trigger/content warning:
Profile Image for Maëlys.
277 reviews272 followers
December 23, 2020
☆ 4 / 5 ☆

“All I've learned of my grandmother so far is that she was a horrible, mean person. And I have her blood. What does that say about me?” “It says that the most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil.”

Suraya doesn’t have any friends but when at the age of 5 a dark ghost she decides to name Pink appears in her life and they become inseparable. Pink is an inheritance from her grandmother, a witch, who just passed away and she decides to keep this new friend of hers hidden from her mother’s eyes.

As she grows up and switches schools Suraya finds herself bullied by her peers and Pink takes it upon himself to sow vengeance and retribution. Suraya doesn’t agree with his methods but she doesn’t speak up in fear of losing her only friend.

One day a new girl appears at school, Jing Wei, and she becomes fast friends with Suraya. Pink discovers that he was always at risk of losing her and feels threatened by this budding new friendship. As he starts getting more and more jealous and lashing out, Suraya finds no other solution but to make him leave.

Throughout this story we see the developing friendship between Suraya and Pink and how their dynamic shifts over time. While Pink used to be all she had, this book is about realising one person, one relationship can’t be your everything. Pink, being a bound dark spirit, takes this new friendship as a lack of loyalty rather than Suraya living a normal childhood. This is an amazing portrayal of love and friendship and how quickly it can become toxic and stifling.
The author also delves into Suraya’s familial relationships and history and how they have impacted her life up until this day.

There is a lot of nuance with the emotions explored within this story and while the plot is simple and easy to follow it is nothing that I was expecting. While things start off pretty lighthearted with the wonderful scene of Suraya naming her new pelesit Pink, things gradually get darker thematically and spookier as we learn more about Pink’s magic and other dark spirits.

This was a very beautiful and genuine tale about love, grief, friendship and family, interwoven with Malaysian culture, and full of heart.

Profile Image for breana / milkyboos ♡.
278 reviews1,467 followers
August 19, 2020
WELL. I have never read a story that is so charming and sweet, while also terrifying and heartbreaking all within the same page.

I really wish I had this book growing up. I would have carried it everywhere with me and lost myself to its magic whenever I felt sad or angry or especially lonely. It’s a MUST READ; I’m already plotting how to force all of my younger cousins to read and fall in love with The Girl and the Ghost immediately.

I also spent the entire last chapter crying, so do what you will with that information.
Profile Image for Elvina Zafril.
510 reviews84 followers
September 8, 2020
The Girl and the Ghost was a pleasant read.

Suraya is only a child when she inherited her grandmother's pelesit after her grandmother passed away. She named the pelesit 'Pink' and they have been friends ever since. Suraya discovered that Pink isn't just a pelesit but it is also a ghost.

I found that this book is kind of emotional and what makes it such an emotional book is because Suraya herself. She is a lonely girl. With a mother who never understand her and care about her like any other parents would do for their child.

I liked the friendship between Suraya and Jing. They are adorable. If you read the book, you know what I'm talking about.

I absolutely love the idea of this book. It took me back to my childhood. So much of nostalgia. A lot of good lessons such as facing the fear, honor the friendship and the importance of family. I think this book will appeal to children who love dark stories.

Thank you, MPH Distributors for sending me a copy of The Girl and the Ghost in return for an honest review. This book is available in all good bookstores.
Profile Image for Wai Kok.
103 reviews19 followers
July 25, 2020
By the time Suraya was five years old, she should have broken various bones in her body at least twelve different times, been poisoned twice, and possibly have actually died on seven separate occasions.

While I do absolutely appreciate Hanna Alkaf’s young adult historical fiction on Malaysia’s May 13 Incident, I expressed that it was not written in a genre I have a lot of experience with. It did place the author firmly in my sights though, and when I heard that she is following up The Weight of Our Sky with a middle grade dark fantasy about a girl’s friendship with a pelesit, a hereditary ghost from Malay folklore, I found myself boarding the Hanna Alkaf train completely.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the ghosties and ghoulies common in Malaysian culture, a pelesit is a magical spirit that is kept for one’s protection and it belongs to a class of heritable spooks called “saka” that includes hantu raya, bajang, polong, and more. The ownership of a saka is believed to be transferred from its master to a blood relative after the master dies, often without the knowledge of the unsuspecting heir—until horrible things start happening around them. A pelesit is a saka that is only passed down the female line and often appears in the guise of a cricket or grasshopper. The Girl and the Ghost began when an old witch passed away in an isolated kampung somewhere, causing her pelesit (does not rhyme with “parasite”) to seek out his new host from among her descendants. The creature then chanced upon an estranged granddaughter named Suraya, to whom he quickly latched on.

I have a professional interest in saka because I work in mental healthcare, and in Malaysia, an uncontrolled, ignored saka is often believed to be the cause of psychosis. So, when an individual starts experiencing signs of a haunting or possession, like hearing voices and behaving erratically, the symptoms are often blamed on these spirits. Because belief in the supernatural is such a fabric of everyday life in Malaysia, it can sometimes be challenging to convince patients and their family members that succour can be found in medicine.

For a book aimed at middle grade readers, it does not talk down to its audience. Now, I watch a lot of cartoons, and if there is anything I learn is that there is a surprising amount of complexity in fiction geared towards children, and one of the shows that impressed me most is Disney’s animated series, Amphibia which featured themes about toxic friendships, particularly between the protagonist Anne Boonchuy and Sasha. It teaches children the important lesson that even friends who mean well, who supposedly care for you and protect you, can still be bad for you. In fact, because of their closeness to you, they are positioned to hurt you most. Such is the unlikely friendship struck between Suraya and Pink (the name she gave her pelesit). I do hope the moral police in my country will not get precious about how Ms Hanna analogised a neglected saka turning malevolent on its owner to a friendship turning sour when someone started paying less attention to their best friend. It would be a shame if some excitable types start accusing Ms Hanna of encouraging kids to cavort with spirits of ill-repute.

Suraya is a great character who came from a long line of intelligent and heroic girls in fiction like Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time (a book that Suraya loves), or Dahl’s Matilda. Like Matilda, it is surprising to see how well Suraya turned out in spite of her environment growing up with her emotionally shuttered mother and being viciously bullied in school. Unlike Matilda though, there is not a single vindictive bone in Suraya’s body. It is easy to root for her, and feel for her, and in one particular scene involving her school shoes, I almost wept for her too. There is just something devastating about a child trying her best to fit in, trying to shrug off derision, but failing anyway.

While we do get Pink’s point-of-view, I wish for a little more exploration of his inner life—and Jing’s too for that matter, and I found it a missed opportunity that the two almost never interacted directly in the book. Considering everything that Pink did, there was almost no reckoning (emotionally or karmically) for his actions, one of which resulted in

There is a surprising but not unwelcome amount of darkness and difficult scenes in The Girl and the Ghost, and as a father of a precocious 7-year-old, I think children have a higher tolerance for cruelty and a bigger appetite for creepiness than we give them credit for, and we do them no favour by being too protective about these things. That being said, I am going to wait awhile before letting him read Ms Hanna’s book though, since he is going through a phase where he is deadly afraid to be alone in a room on his own. Now is probably not a good time for him to learn that there is a whole zoo of ghosts species indigenous to Malaysia he is still blissfully ignorant of.

I consider myself to be relatively well informed on regional supernatural creatures (having avidly read the first 10 volumes of Russell Lee’s True Singapore Ghost Stories as a child) and even I learned a few things from Ms Hanna’s book. For one, I didn’t use to know that there are different types of saka. I didn’t know that they can be gender-specific like pelesits being familiars to women exclusively, and the civet-shaped bajang is a male-only companion. While I knew what a toyol is, I have literally never heard of the polong, which has an interesting symbiotic relationship with the pelesit. If you are at all interested in a good jumping in point to learn about Malaysia’s folklore, this is the place to start.

Perhaps I was reading into it a little too much (in a way that a middle grader might not) but I feel there is a metaphor for child sexual abuse in this story. When Pink And being the parent I am, I am glad that Ms Hanna proposed a solution for her young readers I can absolutely get on board with: tell a trusted adult,

Suraya wasn’t sure how much of a difference that teacher had made. But she figured that she’d had a point about telling an adult. After all, when you have a problem at school, you raise your hand and someone comes to help you. And this is the biggest problem she’d ever faced in her life.

It was, however, slightly undermined by a common trope in literature for younger readers: adults are usually useless, and often refuse to believe what kids tell them, though Suraya’s mother was Of course, this interpretation of sexual abuse gets even more troubling as Suraya learned more about Pink’s nature and origin, so yeah, I was probably overthinking it. In my defence though, this book is certainly not averse to wading into troubling implications—like the rituals behind the creation of pelesits.

As someone who mostly read the works of non-Malaysian authors, I often wonder what it is like to read stories that are set firmly within my own culture, and I am able to recognise and identify with on a fundamental level. Characters in The Girl and the Ghosts speak with an unmistakably Malaysian syntax (or what we call Manglish, which is a portmanteau of Malaysian English or Mangled English, depending on who you ask). I also like being able to recognise places named in the novel, with the exception of one location that Ms Hanna probably made up. I like to imagine her Googling and checking to make sure it isn’t a real place before putting it into the book. Also after years and years of reading about food like treacle tarts and spotted dicks in fiction (and having not the merest idea what they taste like), I like to see Western readers of Ms Hanna’s book wonder about bahulu and heong peng are. My, how the meja has turned. The kasut is on the other foot now.

The Ghost and the Girl is coming out on August 4th in less than two weeks. If you are looking for a great supernatural fiction about friendship, family, and grief (and don’t mind a small serving of horror to go along with it), do check out Hanna Alkaf’s book. And I do mean this regardless of how old you are. What I saw in this is just a fraction of the richness of Malaysian ghosts and spirits, and one hopes that Ms Hanna might, in the future, write about those that she did not feature in this story, like the pontianak, pocong, or hantu tetek. Okay, maybe not hantu tetek. That one is probably unsuitable for middle grade.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,842 reviews5,003 followers
July 29, 2021
I'm abandoning this at page 65. The mythology is interesting, and the writing is good, but I have had it with the contemporary proliferation of the "if you defend yourself or try to get back at your bullies you're as bad as they are" message. And other than the MC being a poor girl at the rich girl school and getting bullied, there doesn't seem to be much going on, plotwise. If I had a supernatural cricket I'd get up to way more shenanigans.
Profile Image for ikram.
241 reviews610 followers
August 4, 2020
full review can be found on my blog!

Disclaimer: I received digital copy review from the author. This does not affect my review in any way; all opinions are my own.

It’s not a secret that Hanna Alkaf is an excellent writer when it comes to playing her readers’ emotions. Like her previous work, The Weight of Our Sky, The Girl and the Ghost has the same elements, which are; family, friendship, emotional yet happy ending, Malaysian culture and folklore that really influence the story and of course, strong characters. The Girl and the Ghost is a thrilling, emotional middle grade book that makes children feel seen in a book.

I’ve always adored Hanna Alkaf’s writing. She’s able to create such an atmospheric story that brings a sense of nostalgia, even the smallest thing can remind you of your childhood. While you’re reading this, I’m sure that you’d feel like you’re transferred to Suraya’s village, watching her grow up and grow distant from children her age. You can feel Malaysian heat and the sound of mosquitos at night, the row of trees that seems to go on forever. Hanna Alkaf created an excellent world building that leaves her readers to imagine the scenery perfectly, creating a rendezvous for readers who want to escape from a big city.

- Maybe it’s not much but I appreciate when author features a Muslim character whose religion is not the only thing that define them. Suraya is a Muslim and she just exists; do her things, go to school, be a children–without need to proof that she’s a Muslim. I’m aware that the setting of the book influences the characterization, I still appreciate it. We deserve a Muslim character like Suraya.
- Suraya’s and Jing’s friendship! God, these two are sooooooo cute. It’s like having two little sisters whom we can’t tell what to do. I mean, if you read the book yourself, you’d understand why!
- [screams] the cultural aspects of the story!!! While I’m not Malaysian, Indonesia and Malaysia share a lot of similarities, including going home before Maghrib and inviting a pawang or scholar to banish evil from your house.
- The writing!! Again, this book is very atmospheric, thank you Hanna Alkaf.
- Funny scenes and conversations that make the book less spooky!
- The ending… Subhanallah, what a beautiful ending.


initial thought, 2 August 2020: Is it possible a story about ghost makes you feel emotional and start to cry?
Profile Image for Jovana Autumn.
560 reviews174 followers
August 2, 2021
” If there is anything I have learned from observing humans, Pink said, it is that families are complicated things.”

This is a middle-grade novel that has a theme of family and friendship at its core.
It’s a story of a girl named Suraya, but it is also the story of her mother, and her grandmother. A story about how our actions and beliefs affect others, how important compassion is along with everyday kindness, how complex family relations can be, and the multiple ways people deal with grief and loneliness.

Life changes for Suraya when her grandmother dies and leaves her a parting gift in form of a pelesit, who quickly becomes Suraya’s only friend. Through their relationship, we get to see the high points and low points of having a friend nobody can see or know about. In school Suraya isn’t treated well, she is bullied because she comes from a poor family, making it hard to make friends in such surroundings. But even as all the cruel things are done to her she never wishes ill will towards her abusers, there is a key message of power and the consequences of power abuse.

”Power is an addiction. A small taste is often enough for people to crave another, and then another, and then another, and those who have it will do anything to get more of it.”

The main villain is no different than the bullies, his goal is to acquire power and rule over the rest at his liking, uncaring towards anyone other than himself. I don’t think it is a coincidence that he is presenting himself as a religious figure either.

Hanna Alkaf managed to write a fast-paced character-driven book that carries across an important message while punishing hypocrisy and selfishness. It’s only a plus how she handled both the family issues and the slow development of her characters, definitely one of the better MG-novels I have read 3,75/5.
This was so sweet, review to come.
Profile Image for skye.
152 reviews93 followers
June 6, 2020
This was good! This was very, very good.

I really, really cannot stress enough that the writing in this is gorgeous: it's sufficiently spooky for an MG fantasy featuring ghosts & other traditionally evil-type spirits from old Malay folktales, and all the descriptions here are just immaculate. This book uses third-person voice to invoke that very old-timey storytelling technique where it feels like there's an omniscient narrator telling the story to you, personally:

"The familiar chirp of the grasshopper's song echoed out into the darkness. If you were listening, you might have dismissed it as just another part of the soundtrack of midnight, along with the buzzing of mosquitoes and the chirping of geckos. But then again, this song wasn't meant for you."

I absolutely live for this shit. Delicious.

And the sheer nostalgia of this book, my god! I have never been so thoroughly transported back to my childhood growing up in warm, sticky Malaysia. The frangipani trees, the iced gem biscuits, the early mornings punctuated by the gentle rumble of a school bus as you drift in and out of sleep on the way to school. I'm so fucking sentimental, you guys, and I think this book might actually be magical for yeeting me all the way back to my secondary school days, with all the worries and the wide-eyed excitement that come with being on the cusp of your teenage years.

I also related deeply to the themes that permeated the book as well: Suraya, for her loneliness birthed from not quite fitting in at school, and the hollow ache of a mother who never quite seems to care about you as your friends' parents do about them; Pink, for his dark and seething jealousy as he watches his only companion seemingly forget about him when she finds a real friend. They were written and addressed with a lot of love, and I'd love to see more children books tackle these messy feelings head-on, because honestly, what is being a kid but colorful, poignant messiness? For these three strengths alone, this book comes as a very easy recommendation for anyone looking for an unconventional MG fantasy on the spookier side of things.

I did have one gripe about the book though, and man, I genuinely, genuinely think this might just be me, but: I'm not super fond of the way that a prominent Chinese character in this book uses the Malaysian Chinese dialect.

I want to preface this with the fact that I'm Malaysian Chinese myself, and that the dialect is, to an extent, authentic: I know plenty of people who speak exactly the way that the character does. But I think context also matters here: the thing is, up until we meet the character around 20% into the story, everyone else speaks... almost perfect English, with a few local phrases and terms sprinkled in. The narration is done in proper English as well. So to have someone speak in full Malaysian Chinese a bit of the way through suddenly was just... jarring, to me. The effect comes off a little exaggerated, especially when placed within a world where characters of other ethnicities don't really have dialects at all? And there were also moments as the story went on where the character's dialect became a little inconsistent as she used more sophisticated phrases that felt incongruous with her characterisation.

I would like to emphasise though that this is a really tricky line to balance, because even though this book is set in Malaysia, it's still being published primarily in the US, for American audiences. It's hard to write culturally-specific prose without going "too far" and getting snide remarks about it being hard to understand.

Wrapping this up, my minor grumbles aside: this book has so, so much to give, especially for misfit little girls with hearts bigger than the cruel circumstances life throws at them, for kids who aren't afraid of some GHOSTS and kids ready to go on whole adventures with a sparkle in their eye. I will be forever grateful that I had a chance to read this early, and I am beyond excited for Hanna's future stories.

ARC received via superstar friend Bex! Thank you for using your divine librarian powers to get me the books of my heart.
Profile Image for halfirishgrin.
288 reviews178 followers
April 9, 2020
I loved a lot of stuff about this book! It was really creepy, and it was wonderfully written. I loved the uniqueness of the story, and the immersion into Malaysian culture.

I really liked a lot of the themes that were brought up in this book. There was a real focus on friendship, love, jealousy - how those three things can intertwine. There was also a theme of death and grief. I kind of wish the story had spent a little bit more time on these themes though. As it was written, it felt a little bit lackluster.

I feel like the external plot arc of the story really takes over in the second half of this book, with internal arcs of the characters pushed a little bit to the side. Both those things were balanced really well in the first half of the novel, but not so much in the second half, which was a little disappointing for me.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,711 followers
October 6, 2020
I was asked to do a presentation of children’s books under the banner of “Spooky Stories” for the Halloween season. There’s no counting the titles you can pull from, even if you limit yourself to the stuff published in the current year. Even so, whenever you make a list of books, no matter what the topic, it is imperative that you give it a critical eye and make sure you have a wide variety of perspectives, genders, races, etc. My list began with picture books, so I made sure to include The Bold Brave Bunny by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Chow Hon Lam. Hon lives in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, so that’s pretty cool. And on the older side I definitely wanted to include The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. Hanna lives in . . . huh. Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Yes, it seems that Malaysia’s the place to go this holiday season if you’re looking for supernatural creatures that go far beyond the usual zombies and vampires. Pelesits and polongs. Toyols and bajangs. But more than the bajang-civets, in this debut novel for kids Ms. Alkaf’s writing is the true star of the show. It lures you in with pretty words then wraps around your heart so that you never want to stop reading. Hand this book to children if you dare. You may not see their faces again until they have devoured every last page.

“The ghost knew his master was about to die, and he wasn’t exactly unhappy about it.” You wouldn’t be either if you were tied to a nasty witch. Yet that’s the lot of a pelesit. You are compelled to serve a witch, or members of a witch’s bloodline. So it is that this particular ghost discovers the witch's delightful granddaughter, young Suraya, and the two become stalwart companions. She names him Pink. He swears to never leave her. Life is good. But as Suraya grows older, she discovers that there are definite downsides to supernatural companions. They can grow jealous of your friends. Vengeful of those they perceive to be your enemies. And worst of all, they can turn on you if they feel betrayed. Yet when a smiling pawing hantu comes, claiming he can get rid of Pink for good, Suraya must decide what is worth saving, who is worth trusting, and whether or not it really is true that fortune favors the bold.

What makes a great book for children? Depends on the age. The factors that make a great picture book don’t necessarily apply to older children’s fiction titles, after all. The Girl and the Ghost is a novel, so we’ll start there. Now I’ve read enough fantasies for kids, and enough award winners, and enough titles that kids actually enjoy (as opposed to the books their parents would prefer that they enjoy) that I think I’ve a rough estimation of the mix necessary to create the best possible book. If an author has enough talent to write a book that is, from the very get go, enticing and clever, with even just the barest nudge of humor, that’s a good start. If that author then mixes in beautiful writing and evokes settings without dwelling on them overtly, better still. And if that writer manages to pull off the most difficult part of this process, sinking their hooks into you emotionally, making you actually CARE about the characters, that’s the holy grail, my friends. That’s the golden ticket. And Hanna Alkaf has tickets galore.

I think it was the writing that drew me to her first. The first page of The Girl and the Ghost is marvelous. You’ll find it in the Prologue. It’s an interesting combination of fascinating details (ghosts that must serve humans are intrinsically interesting so you don’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting there), a good first sentence, and a couple choice turns of phrase like, “Watching her teeter slowly toward the end was a bit like watching a grape slowly become a raisin: the years had sucked the life and vitality out of her until she was nothing but a wrinkled shell of her former self.” I guess you’d have to be a pretty good writer to combine what we’d call the more literary elements of the book with outright pop culture. The TV show Friends, the Star Wars movies (even the bad ones), and Pokémon all make appearances on the page. The fact that the reader accepts them, never objects to them, and even welcomes them is remarkable. By all rights they should come across as annoying. Instead, they work within the context of the book. Every last one.

And then we cannot forget the villain of the piece. Encik Ali embodies that old phrase, “Beware the quiet ones,” and is a worthy adversary to someone as powerful as Pink. Reread this book, though, and you’ll see that Hanna telegraphs his coming early on. At the beginning of Chapter Ten you learn that Suraya, “had watched the animated movie Pinocchio exactly once, and then never again, because the bearded puppet master Stromboli, with his dark beard and his wild eyes, freaked her out and gave her nightmares for a week.” Little does she know that she’ll have her own puppet master to deal with before the book is over. And what a magnificent baddie he is too! About the time he’s licking blood from a knife, you want to turn and run for the high hills rather than get caught up in whatever it is he’s got in mind. I ask for a lot from the books I read, but if you give me nothing else, give me a bad guy worth cheering against. Encik Ali, I dub thee worthy.

All readers are hampered by being stuck as themselves. When I pick up a book written for children I can try to become that twelve-year-old girl I used to be back in the day, but it’s impossible. I’m a mom now and like it or lump it, I read books like a mom. So my relationship to the character of Pink (the pelesit) was decidedly mixed. When the ghost focused on Suraya as his new master, and then had to spend all of his waking energy keeping her from bodily injury, I wasn’t reading the book like a kid anymore. Instead I was commiserating with the ghost, particularly when the book said things like, “Once or twice more, he’d felt an overpowering urge to show himself to her, if only to tell her to STOP EATING THINGS SHE FOUND LYING ON THE GROUND.” Then the relationship shifts. It’s no longer parental, but it doesn’t have a true sense of equality either. When Pink turns his anger on Suraya, there is a dangerous moment when Suraya explains Pink’s violence towards her by saying, “I don’t think Pink’s evil, Mama. He just loves me too much.” And now I’m in her mother’s position, looking at a daughter in an abusive relationship, like she's trying to justify it. It is for this reason that you find myself, as a reader, on the fence about Pink. That’s intentional, of course, but were I an editor I would have removed that line. “He just loves me too much.” It complicates, dangerously, a story that otherwise works on a variety of different levels. A fly in an otherwise perfect ointment.

In 2020 there is an abundance of grief in our middle grade books for child readers. Maybe it’s always that way. Maybe we’re just feeling it more keenly now than we usually would. Pain without purpose serves no good end. But pain mixed with humor and adventure, leading ultimately to a kind of catharsis not just for the characters but for the readers as well – that is something I think we could all use right now. Every child that has ever felt loneliness yearns, on some level, for a Pink of their own. We all do. It’s probably for the best that we don’t get one, but at least we can live vicariously through a book that shows in the most eloquent way possible how family trauma lives on, from generation to generation, taking shape, forming us one way or another. The elements that make a great novel for children aren’t difficult to understand. Hanna Alkaf has laid them out for you. Take what you need. Leave behind what you don’t. Enjoy to the fullest.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for HoneyAhmad.
190 reviews2 followers
June 28, 2020
A solid 4.5! I wanted more ghostly shennenigans! Hanna- this is a fabulous book. Recommended everyone. Recommended.
Profile Image for Fatini Zulkifli.
361 reviews29 followers
September 12, 2021
What an amazing story! Kita cerewet bab bagi rating. Tapi ni memang selayaknya diberi 5 bintang.
Cerita hantu pelesit yang jahat tu kita dah biasa dengar. Tapi ada twist dalam novel ni. Hantu pelesit dia baik. Kali pertama saya rasa kesian dekat belaan nih. Agak terubah persepsi dkt depa. Pelesit ni memang naturally jahat. Tak boleh nak marah dia. Tapi kita kena marah dekat manusia yang hire pelesit as servant.
Belaan ni cari tuan. Dia aim budak nama Suraya. Suraya bagi nama pelesit ni as, Pink. Pink ni buli orang jahat dkt sekolah yang usik Suraya. Bertahun duk berkawan. Rupanya Pink tu abang Suraya. Abang Suraya jadi hantu sebab nenek Suraya beramal, buat ritual gigit lidah mayat abang (meninggal usia 2 tahun) sampai putus utk tukarkan jadi pelesit. Pink ni suka bergaduh dengan kawan Suraya, Jing, yang sangat obses dgn Star Wars.
Penjahat dia, Pawang. Ala-ala ustaz gaya dia. Pawang ni suka collect hantu. Dia berlakon jadi orang alim untuk dapatkan kepercayaan orang ramai yang dia boleh sembuhkan orang yang ada gangguan. Gotta read part Suraya, Pink, Jing berlawan dengan Pawang dekat kubur waktu tengah malam bulan mengambang. Suraya siap dapat bantuan dari hantu-hantu lain yang baik. Pergh. Weird but amazing.
Takut ada. Seronok ada. Kesian ada. Kelakar ada. A rollercoaster of emotions gitu.
Sukalah novel Hanna Alkaf. Yang sebelum ni The Weight of Our Sky pun best.
Profile Image for Kate.
397 reviews242 followers
July 27, 2021
Let me tell you, the plot of this story just completely blew me away. I went into it expecting one of those middle grade books that starts out fun and lighthearted but then slowly descends into incredibly creeptastic otherworldliness that somehow manages to keep you up at night (think Coraline by Neil Gaiman). And while it would have been an excellent book if it had gone that route, Hanna Alkaf really took it to the next level by imbuing it with so much emotion.

The titular girl is Suraya, while the ghost is a pelesit gifted to her by her witch grandmother whom she eventually names Pink. Pink, as it turns out, is a pelesit, a spirit that often takes the form of a grasshopper or cricket and is similar to a familiar. At first, it seems that Pink is just a quiet, special friend for shy, bullied Suraya, but then a darker side of Pink emerges – a side that is not only determined to drive away Suraya’s bullies, but even the one girl she befriends.

I went into this book thinking that Pink was the antagonist, and that the book would be all about Suraya and her new friend Jing Wei trying to find some way to banish Pink and keep themselves safe. But it goes beyond that. Pink is more than a spirit attaching itself to a young, lonely, friendless girl. And Suraya’s adventures in learning about Pink, and his connection to her family, is more than an adventure with a new friend where she learns to be more outgoing. Instead, The Girl and The Ghost is, at its heart, a story about grief, how different generations process it, and how the inability to address it can lead to the pain continuing not just for yourself, but for the ones who come after you, like your children.

The plot of The Girl and The Ghost is pretty straightforward, but it’s also incredibly hard-hitting and gut-wrenching. I picked this up one evening expecting to read maybe 5 or so chapters – and instead I breezed through it and finished it in one day. It’s not a very long book, but it was one that left me sitting and thinking for a while about death, grief, loneliness, and loss.

Read my full review here.

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Profile Image for Jen.
602 reviews255 followers
December 17, 2020
I started researching Hanna Alkaf's previous works immediately after beginning The Girl and the Ghost. I knew right away I would need more from her!

The Girl and the Ghost is so dark, and the writing is so gorgeous. This book has everything I want in a middle grade novel. I loved the friendships, and this book tore at my heart so many times.

The horror in this book was scary and downright disturbing. The origin story of the ghost might actually dethrone Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter as the scariest middle grade content I've ever read.

I'm adding The Girl and the Ghost to my growing list of spooky MG books that I highly recommend. I hope we get more from Hanna Alkaf in the future.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Irmak ☾.
229 reviews50 followers
December 6, 2021
"But all I've learned of my grandmother so far is that she was a horrible, mean person. And I have her blood. What does that say about me?"

"It says that the most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil.”

This was super interesting, full of culture, and extremely beautiful.

The story was simple and easy to follow, but it was dark at times. (Keep in mind that this is a middle-grade.) I ADORED Suraya and, her relationship with Pink made my heart melt.
Profile Image for Kamalia.
Author 2 books194 followers
March 18, 2021
This book deserves all the stars in the world! I'm actually really scared to write this review because I'm not sure I'll get to properly convey my thoughts and emotions about it, but I'll try my best. But let me start by saying that this book now holds a special place in my heart, and it's one of my all-time favourites that I'll be telling EVERYONE to read.

The first thing that captivated me into the story was Hanna Alkaf's gorgeous, lyrical style of writing. I absolutely love it. I'll read anything and everything she writes (even the acknowledgements made me shed a tear), please please write more books, Hanna! Other than the beautiful metaphors and similes she uses in her writing, I also love how MALAYSIAN it is. Sure, the characters and setting are already Malaysian which can be expected from the synopsis, but to also get to see Malay words like jambu tree, jubah, songkok, baju kurung and all the Malaysian food (nasi lemak, roti canai, bahulu, murukku, etc.) and ghost types (pelesit, pawang, langsuir, toyol, etc.) being referred to in the Malay language, the way Malaysians would say them, and without being italicised, made me so happy. I also enjoyed seeing some of the characters (particularly Jing Wei) speak in Malaysian English.

The main characters– Pink and Suraya– are just brilliant. I adore them both so much, and what I love even more than their individual characteristics is their unique relationship. We have Pink, the pelesit (ghost) who's been bounded to Suraya ever since she was a young girl. As a pelesit, he's supposed to be creating chaos and do evil onto others, but seeing as Suraya never tells him to do any of this, he takes it upon himself to protect her at all cost. I clutched my chest every single time Pink said something along the lines of feeling [happy/proud/sad] for Suraya, despite "not having a heart," because he's a ghost. I won't get into it too much to avoid spoilers, but I just think Pink is so wholesome and ironically, so human. Hands down my favourite character.

Suraya's also such a wonderful MC. She's so compassionate and kind, but also brave and sometimes stubborn. I love seeing the way she shows affection towards Pink, and just like Pink, my heart soared when she finally finds a friend who accepts her. Jing Wei is funny and witty and her obsession for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings was hilarious and fun to read about. And actually, I really like the way the author weaves Star Wars into the story, where at one point it actually influences the characters' decision about something. Very clever.

As for the main story, I never would have thought I would love it as much as I do. I'm personally not a fan of ghost stories, ESPECIALLY the Malaysian ones because they give me goosebumps and anxiety. Like, I'll never watch Malaysian horror movies even if you paid me. So it was such a delightful surprise that I really enjoyed the author's take on Malaysian ghost folklore (or is folktale the more accurate word?). Instead of the awfully scary version that you see in Malaysian horror films or hear about from stories, the ones in The Girl and the Ghost are a lot lighter and friendlier. And even funny. Don't get me wrong, I still found them rather spooky, but it's so refreshing to explore a more human side to them. Because ultimately, most if not all of them were once people themselves after all. So that was really interesting. In addition to this, I did NOT see that plot twist coming.

All in all, I really loved The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. I love everything you could love in a book; the writing, the story, and the characters. So it's an automatic 5 stars from me. The only thing I wish was different would be that I wish there was a longer ending, just because I was NOT ready to say goodbye to the characters.

If you're Malaysian, please please don't hesitate to pick up this book. Although it's considered middle-grade, since the characters are 14-years-old if I'm not mistaken, it reads very much like a Young Adult novel (it actually gets quite dark too) and is suitable for people of all ages to read. There'll definitely be SOMETHING in it that you like, if not the ghosts and the plot, then definitely the Malaysian references, and knowing that there's Malaysian representation in fiction that's available worldwide.

If you're not Malaysian, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. Read about us, please!

Profile Image for USOM.
2,335 reviews193 followers
July 31, 2020
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Edelweiss. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

What makes The Girl and the Ghost such an emotional book, is how relatable Suraya and her story are. A lonely girl in a world that doesn't understand her. And those feelings of watching our friends drift further away from us. Those moments of rage, resentment, and anger. The Girl and the Ghost is a story about friendship and forgiveness. My heart ached this entire book whether it was Suraya or Pink's feelings (Pink has a POV!) or the revealed family secrets.

full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for Flybyreader.
631 reviews151 followers
October 31, 2020
This enchanting ghost story from Malaysia concludes my spooktober reading list. Listed as a middle-grade children’s book but beware, this book may not be suitable for children, I’m not even sure if it’s ok for adults: some parts of it were so dark and creepy I felt the chills all over my body. Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, creepy and sweet: this fairytale is bound to cause a myriad of emotions. I do not know how to describe the story and the feeling it gives, an emotional rollercoaster with its ups and downs, warming your heart with friendship and love, then curdling your blood with malicious ghostly acts and evil deeds. This spellbinding fairytale flows beautifully with cultural nuances, supernatural elements and friendships. We experience first-hand the evolution of the relationship between a heartless ghost and a sweet little girl; the kinship and blood that binds them together. They are their best friend and worst enemy. A mesmerizing bedtime story for this time of the year.
Profile Image for lucy✨.
279 reviews647 followers
September 19, 2022
This was a beautifully lyrical and heartfelt story. We follow a girl who finds friendship in a ghost, which leads to a journey of recognising vulnerability, acknowledging grief and accepting the pain within relationships. I thought the balance between humour and the ache of emotions was well done. It was magical, heartwarming and honest in its depiction of human heartache.
Profile Image for Gouri Verma.
139 reviews
July 24, 2021

This book broke my heart😢 The end was painful……I still can’t digest the truth……and trust me……this book is gonna break you❤️ The opening scene was the perfect, happy and sweet! And I loved all the characters….even the bad ones😂

I didn’t expect this book to be so good!!! And there was a BIG plot twist which I definitely didn’t see coming….but, I did know that there will a twist towards the end💖 It is about a girl, Suraya, she is alone, lives with her mom and the whereabouts of her dad is a mystery for her. And then meets a pelesit, her grandmother’s pelesit. She names him Pink and they become inseparable friends…..but then Suraya meets Jing and they becomes good friends….that is when Pink starts to feels the sting of betrayal and jealously….. and then the unexpected happens…

This book won my heart!❤️ I still can’t get it how can someone write such a good book?❤️ Suraya was really so sweet, but Pink was the one who won my heart😊

I loved it!!!!!!❤️
Profile Image for Skip.
3,249 reviews393 followers
September 26, 2020
Suraya is an only child, with a deceased father and a mother, who is protective and reserved. When her estranged grandmother (a witch) dies, she wills her pelesit (a ghost) to protect Suraya. After several years, the pelesit reveals herself to Suraya, who names the pelesit Pink, her favorite color. Pink was treated abominably by the witch, and becomes friends with Suraya, seeking to protect her from bullies at school and other pains associated with growing up. Suraya has a good heart and is horrified by what Pink does. Things come to a head, when Pink's jealously threatens her good friend from school while Pink is threatened by a ruthless collector of magical beings. Together, the three set off on an adventure to make things right. A good story, with a healthy dose of Malaysian culture.
Profile Image for Naadhira Zahari.
Author 1 book66 followers
July 18, 2020
The Girl And The Ghost is an utterly dark and moving read about a girl who discovered her longtime friend is so much more than just a pelesit, a ghost. Its a journey through friendship, acting courageously and discovering secrets that are bound for a change.

I am seriously obsessed with this story because not only is it super Malaysian but it was so original. Its like a combination of things that so I'm familiar with by pairing it up with something so new and fresh. And because of that, I absolutely cannot stop thinking about this beautiful story. Even now.

There was never a moment that I didn't want to embrace everything about this story. The characters, plot, setting and most importantly, the writing style. You really won't be able to put it down and intrigued to find out what will happen to the fates of Suraya, Pink and Jing. And you'll be surprised at what you might find out as things start to unravel.

This book is one of my most anticipated reads of the year and I'm so thankful that I was given a chance to read it early. It exceeded beyond my imagination and I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough. Hanna Alkaf is truly such a talented writer that her writing will literally suck you in her literary works and you'll thank her for it at the end.
Profile Image for rain.
607 reviews345 followers
February 19, 2021
it feels like everything is possible when you're listening to an audiobook at 3x speed because i finished reading this in about two hours and loved every second of it. i was able to connect to the characters and the story so fast with hanna alkaf's magnetic storytelling. i found the trajectory of suraya and pink's friendship interesting as it went from adorable to horrifying. this book talks about bullying, jealousy, and grief which made it an emotional read despite its soft and adorable parts. i just...love this book, okay? this is definitely a new favorite.
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