Anya's Ghost: sweet and scary ghost story about identity

By Cory Doctorow

Anya's Ghost, Vera Brosgol's debut graphic novel, starts out as a simple young adult story about a girl who's having a hard time fitting in at school, moves smoothly into a lighthearted story about an awkward girl and her ghostly BFF, and then slides precipitously (and scarily) into a no-fooling ghost story that'll have you jumping out of your skin while you finish it off.

Anya Borzakovskaya is a Russian emigre attending the third-worst private school in her state. Her single mother can't understand the pressures on Anya as she tries to Americanize herself and fit in to the sometimes vicious world of adolescence. Anya and her only friend, Siobhan, spend as much time feuding as they do helping each other out, and then there's Dima, the only other Russian kid in school, who is "fobby" (Fresh off the Boat) and who makes Anya squirm with embarrassment (usually just before he gets clobbered by the more athletic kids). Anya sneaks away from school one day in a dark cloud of frustration and finds herself down a deep hole -- with a skeleton.

A girl's skeleton. A haunted girl's skeleton. The haint that rises from the skeleton explains that she's been trapped since her death 90 years before, and while she is scary and sad, it's the ghost that gets Anya rescued. As Anya escapes from the pit, she accidentally scoops up a fingerbone from the skeleton, and inadvertently liberates the ghost. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, though, as soon the ghost is helping Anya to pass her exams, stalk her secret-crush basketball star, and even dress and comport herself (the ghost is an avid reader of fashion and teen magazines and absorbs a lot about the world through them). She introduces herself to Anya as Emily Reilly, murdered by a passing stranger in her youth after being widowed by her beau in the trenches of WWI.

But Emily the ghost isn't all sweetness. Indeed, Anya discovers that Emily expects her to take all the help that Emily offers, no questions asked, and that's when it starts to get scary, as Anya realizes that she has befriended an altogether more sinister spirit than she thought.

Anya's Ghost manages to be really sweet, really funny and really scary, and it's got a powerful message about identity, fitting in, and the secret selfish bastard lurking in all of us and whether having such a goblin inside makes us irredeemable or merely human.

Anya's Ghost

Published 6:04 am Wed, Apr 6, 2011


About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

9 Responses to “Anya's Ghost: sweet and scary ghost story about identity”

  1. Anonymous says:

    somehow, the cover reminds me of Persepolis

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s odd… even though I’m not a huge fan of Cory’s writing (it’s not bad, but I never fall in love with the characters or story), his book recommendations are almost always books that I wind up loving.

  3. Posteriormente says:

    Another cool graphic novel about immigrants, identity and fobbies is American Born Chinese by Gene-Luen-Yang

  4. Shart Tsung says:

    Always appreciate the graphic novel posts, Elephantmen is getting picked up next time I make it over to The Encounter Comics.

    I hope they have this one too,unfortunately comic shops are suffering just like any small book store. Any thing Neil Gaiman recommends must be good, I’m reading the Sandman books right now.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What is the age of the Target Audience for this work? Sounds great!

  6. Nash Rambler says:

    I’ve loved Vera’s stuff since “Return to Sender,” sadly unfinished but that’s life. I will make a point of checking this out.

    P.S. – Psst, Cory, it’s “Brosgol,” not “Brosol.”

    • AndrewF says:

      Me too! I checked “Return to Sender” for years, hoping it would continue. I loved her contribution to “Flight” too.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ha, and here I thought I’d be the first commenter to bring up how much they loved RtS. I’m definitely buying this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I thought that this looked familiar, and yeah, I have seen it before – on the Pants Press Sketchblog, where she did some preliminary work on the character, here:

    -Darren MacLennan

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