Ghosts is the most recently published of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels and also the most fantastical. Since I had read and reviewed her other three books earlier this year, it seemed only appropriate to do this one as well. While I didn’t connect to this story the way I did Smile and Drama, I did fall for the characters and the story of family, identity, and death.
Cat’s younger sister, Maya, was born with cystic fibrosis, it affects her lungs and digestive system and there is no cure. The family moves from their Southern California home to the coastal Northern California town of Bahia de la Luna because the cooler sea air is better for Maya’s lungs. Cat understands why the move needs to happen, and she wants what is best for her sister, but it’s hard to leave friends and the known behind.
Bahia de la Luna has only about 62 days of sunshine a year and, as the family soon learns after arriving, is a haven for ghosts. Ghosts like the cloudy, windy weather and the town embraces them. The two sisters couldn’t be more opposite in their feelings regarding the ghosts. Cat desperately wants them to be a hoax and when confronted with the reality is terrified. Maya intensely wants to meet a ghost and is thrilled when the opportunity arises. Their views are based on their feelings toward death. Cat doesn’t want to face the reality of her sister dying. Maya knows better than anyone that her time on this earth is short, thus she embraces every moment and is curious about everything, including ghosts and what they can tell her about the other side.
Moving to Bahia de la Luna reconnects Leona, the girls’ mother, with her Mexican heritage and thus introduces it to her daughters. Leona laments the loss of skills and recipes of her heritage due to not being interested in “old-fashioned ways”. Maya latches on to the concept of an ofrenda and sets one up to honor her grandmother for Dia de los Muertos.
The town has a huge celebration to mark the Day of the Dead with music, food, dancing and spending time with ancestors and spirits of the past. Disturbed by her encounters thus far, Cat initially refuses to go, until Maya shames her by asking if Cat will be afraid of her ghost too, once she dies. Reluctantly Cat goes to join the festivities. In a warm encounter with an old woman’s ghost, that reminds Cat of her grandmother, and a playful one with a child ghost, Cat realizes that she has nothing to fear. By bringing the ghost back to Maya, Cat heals the hurt she had caused her sister.
Ghosts is the touching story of a family living with a degenerative disease. In showing Maya’s various treatments as part of the family routine it helps give a normality to what life is like when you have a family member living with an incurable illness. It is also a story about death, identity and heritage. I recommend it just as strongly as I do Raina’s other books.