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

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