by Vera Brosgol
FirstSecond Books, 2011
Young Adult (13 and up)
It isn’t a mystery how Vera Brosgol won the Eisner award (and others) for this ghost meets teen-angst masterpiece. It has a great storyline that deals with issues like dating and body image, the visuals of her players have real character, and the conflicts have depth of emotion. The story feels honest and real.
Annushka Borzakovskaya (Anya) is the daughter of Russian immigrants, living in the United States with her mother and brother. She’s a bit of an outcast, but she has a friend Siobhan whom she trusts and likes to ditch class to have a smoke with. Then there is fresh-off-the-boat nerd Dima that Anya knows she should be friends with, but just can’t bring herself to be seen in his company.
One day Anya falls down a hole in the back of the park. It’s a long way down, so she’s stuck there a while. Long enough to meet the ghost of a girl about her age who died there a hundred years before. A small bone finds its way into her backpack, allowing the ghost to follow Anya home.
The ghost helps Anya with her homework, (as well as surreptitiously obtaining test answers for her…) and offers some welcome empathy as Anya tries to fit in and cope with the horrors of gym class. The ghost girl finally reveals her name is Emily Reilly, and that she was murdered.
When Sean from the basketball team, the cutest guy in school, starts to show some interest in Anya, Emily’s ghost gives her some encouragement to dress a little bit more wildly than she’s used to. She really wants Anya to impress him. The ghost uses her powers to finagle Anya a ride with Sean to a super-cool party… but when she gets there Anya finds out that he isn’t all he’s cut out to be. She also discovers just what Sean’s steady girl Elizabeth has to contend with; her dependency, his infidelity, and Anya ends up walking home.
Meanwhile, Emily seems to avoid researching and solving her murder as she presses Anya to continue pursuing the jerk despite what happened at the party.
I think we both know that without me you’d still be that weird girl who fell on her ass in gym.
Taking it upon herself to find out what’s really going on with her ectoplasmic “friend”, who does Anya meet at the library but Dima, who shows her how to use the antiquated microfiche readers. And what he finds is surprising. Emily is less a victim than a Lizzy Borden type. It seems she’s also developed the ability to move small objects despite her corporeal disadvantage… and the bone that allows her to travel freely about the world of the living? The one her essence is tied to? Missing.
All I want is another chance! I want to make it right and give you the life I always wanted!
After a confrontation, Emily warns that it’s better when she’s on your side. I mean, wouldn’t it be a shame if the stove’s gas burners accidentally got left on one night? Or if Mom fell down the stairs? Or if your little brother… well, we won’t mention “what ifs”.
A satisfying final showdown at the pit in the park ties up the conflict in fright-inducing action as Emily learns how to move her skeleton and face Anya physically.
Anya’s Ghost is a classic; one of those novels that helps raise comics to a valid and accepted form of literature. Brosgol’s portrayal of realistic relationships and emotions captures a common teen experience with compelling characterizations and vivid personalities. It’s a quick read that will leave you hungering for more from the artist.