Not all spirits are bad, and not all spirits are good, but how do you tell when they have your best intentions in mind? (Sounds kind of like any other friendship, huh?)
Anya’s Ghost is a graphic novel that features a short little story about a teenage girl named Anya, who moved to America from Russia at a young age. She isn’t doing great in school, and doesn’t feel like she truly fits in: she has one close friend named Siobhan, who isn’t really all that nice to her, and her mother tries hard to keep Anya connected to her cultural community through church and other families she knows (most notably, a young boy named Dima who is also from Russia, but others tend to pick on). Also, Anya harbours a crush for a popular basketball player at school, who just happens to be dating a beautiful popular girl. Isn’t this such a familiar little trope for most YA stories? Well, here’s where we get a twist…
While skipping class one day, Anya falls down a well in a park, and meets a ghost of a young girl named Emily, who ends up following her: Anya reluctantly becomes friends with this ghost after she helps with some things at school and with her romantic pursuits. Though you never really know if spirits are doing things because it’s best for you, or best for them, do you?
What I love about this book is that it picks up on a lot of typical high school, young adult tropes, but with many pertinent themes within: girls being pit against one another through jealousy and for the attention of boys, friendships that aren’t truly meaningful, how quick we are to pick on people for the same reasons we used to be just in order to feel like we now fit in, not knowing the pain going on in the lives of others despite the fact that they look so perfect from the outside, and so much more. There were some opportunities here that could have even been more expanded on, in particular with how Anya reacts to a situation with her crush and his current girlfriend. But doing further with that may have muddied the waters of the real main focus of the story in the end.
The art of this graphic novel is also very clean, and cute looking. In a subdued monochromatic scheme of black and white (with the odd touch of blueish or purpleish gray-tones), the mood presented by the imagery fits what is presented in the story, in particular during the latter portions of the book.
The only minor complaints I would have would really be with the ending of this novel. There is a particular emotional moment between Anya and the ghost Emily, but leading up to this, once we sort of figure out the hitch in everything going on, it plays out pretty simply; I don’t want to say it felt “too easy” but… maybe a little predictable after the reveal? It was intense, for sure, but something held me back from being totally immersed at that point. I was also a little disappointed in some of the resolution with Anya’s friend Siobhan: she has her struggles too, but she isn’t really a nice girl, and a further point about friendship could have really been driven home here. But then again, I’m not the author of this novel, am I? It’s not my choice to make!
That said, I did very much enjoy Anya’s Ghost: it was quite the respite from the long and heavy other novel I’m currently working on at the moment. And I honestly would have loved it when I was younger as well, because that lonely teenage feeling is oh-so-relatable, but then you also get some fun, and a little bit of creepiness thrown in here too.