ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol (First Second Books, 2011)

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel tells the tale of a frustrated teenage girl from a Russian family who is desperate to fit in with the cool set at her high school in America. Part of the story  is autobiographical since Vera Brosgol was born in Moscow (in 1984) and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Anya is self-conscious about her accent, her weight and the fact that she doesn’t measure up to the Barbie-like beauties in her class. To make matters worse the boy she has a crush on hardly seems to notice her.

Her troubled life turns around when, on the way home from school, she takes a short cut through a cemetery and falls down a hole in a nearby forest. Instead of finding white rabbits or Cheshire cats she discovers the skeleton of a girl named Emily who died 90 years previously. She knows this because the girl’s ghost tells her so!

Vera Brosgol

Vera Brosgol

After being rescued, Anya briefly bonds with her spectral soul mate but the friendship takes a sinister turn as Emily gradually becomes more powerful and manipulative.

Emily also says she was murdered but this proves to be a lie to hide the even more shocking truth. By the end the friendly ghost becomes more like a scary monster.

Emily personifies the angst of Anya and unwittingly teaches the teenager that ghosts are not so awesome and that her flaws are what make her human.

I suppose the moral lies in what her flesh and blood friend Siobhan tells her:
“You may look normal like everyone else, but you’re not. Not on the inside.”

The problem with books being marketed for ‘young adults’ is that ‘old adults’ like yours truly can miss out on gems like this. I have now decided to ignore the YA  genre label entirely and follow my instinct over what seems interesting or not.

This is a great read for adults of all ages.

Related link:
Interview with Vera Brosgol in Comics Bulletin