By Vera Brosgol
224 pages, two-color
Published by First Second Books
With a lot of young-adult oriented books and graphic novels, you know exactly how they’re going to turn out as soon as you start reading. Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost deliberately flouts that predictability, thankfully; it’s a book that not only doesn’t treat its readers as stupid, but delights in providing logical yet surprising turns of events from start to finish, resulting in a graphic novel that entertains on a continual basis.
What struck me early on about Anya’s Ghost is that Brosgol seems to have almost drawn out an initial plot in a straight line, then created the narrative for Anya’s Ghost by zooming off in as many other directions as possible. As the story builds—meeting Anya and learning about her outsider status, her falling into a well and discovering a ghost inside, her eventual return to school with said ghost—there are numerous moments where it would be easy to go with a "safe" story. The ghost could become her best friend. Anya could spend the entire book inside the well. Anya at the end of the book could be the new most popular girl in school. Instead, though, Brosgol gives us something far more interesting, by showing us what really lies beneath the facade of each character inside Anya’s Ghost.
To me, that’s part of what can make a young adult graphic novel effective; rather than bash us over the head with a message, Brosgol shows but doesn’t tell. She leaves it to her readers with each revelation to put the mounting evidence together, that those whom Anya originally disses might not be so bad, while those that initially seem to be great are hiding something else. The best part in that realm is when Brosgol pulls the curtain off from the character of Elizabeth. It would be easy to bring her down by showing her to be a horrible person, but Brosgol doesn’t go for something so simplistic. Instead we get a much worse secret that she’s hiding, and it ultimately makes her a sympathetic (if slightly pathetic) character. In many ways Elizabeth is a warning for the route that Anya’s been encouraged to go down, and it’s a great way to make Anya’s Ghost interesting for all ages of readers. I suspect the older you are, the more of Brosgol’s subtleties you’ll notice.
As for the rest of Anya’s Ghost, I like how it manages to juggle multiple genres and moods. It’s a little bit of a horror, a little bit high school drama, a little bit family drama. None of the pieces ever overwhelm the book, but instead they all work together into a strong, unified whole. Even the weakest part of the book—the slightly stereotypical mother—has so much heart that it’s hard to stay annoyed with the character. And when the horror part of the story takes center stage, Brosgol makes it quite compelling. Anya’s plunge down the well is terrifying, and the big showdown at the end of the book has a great deal of tension. It helps that Brosgol’s art is so appealing; it’s a smooth, clean line and reminds of creators like Kean Soo. She’s able to bring so much to every panel—terror, excitement, attraction, rage—with a single expression. The motion in this book is great, too. Anya falling down the well is an obvious choice, but even little moments like Anya flipping the food into the air and onto the ground is perfect; you can see the arc of every single piece of food’s travel through the air, and it’s perfectly paced.
Anya’s Ghost may have come out a year ago, but it’s just as good now as it was then. My only regret is that it took me this long to finally read it. Brosgol’s an amazing talent, and I’m already more than ready for whatever follow-up we get next. Highly recommended.