Catrina doesn't want to move to Bahia de la Luna in Northern California; she's a So-Cal kid and she loves her middle-school friends. But the sun only shines 62 days a year in Bahia de la Luna, and that's important for the health of her little sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis.
Realistically, everyone knows that Maya's illness will kill her someday, and maybe someday soon. Practically speaking, they put it behind them, adapt, try strategies for making the most of their time together. So they move to foggy northern California, where Cat and Maya go looking for friends — and find them, sorta.
Carlos is a local kid in Catrina's grade, and he specializes in giving ghost tours. That's fertile ground, because there are really ghosts in Bahia de la Luna, who come through in the thin places, like the old Spanish Mission, and who are decidedly friendly — and, if you can give them a little of your breath, they get decidedly lively. The problem is that Maya doesn't have any breath to give — her first encounter with the friendly spirits sends her to the hospital.
Catrina tries to make it work. She makes more friends, stays clear of the ghosts, gets settled in at school. But the ghosts won't stay clear of her — they keep manifesting around the house, where Maya is now on a respirator full-time.
The change of location, and the family's friendships with Carlos's family, triggers a long-overdue discussion with Maya and Cat's mother about her own Mexican heritage, the difficult times she had with her mom, and how much of their family heritage disappeared when their grandmother died.
As Halloween and the Dia de los Muertos approach, all of the story's threads begin to gather, heading for a conclusion that seems like it could be wrenching and/or terrifying — but rather than going for a cheap scare or cheap tears, Telgemeier pulls off an ending that is emotionally complicated, nuanced, and, if it's a little sad, it's also equally joyous. It's a stupendously executed tale, and handles difficult themes related to culture, assimilation and chronic illness in children, and when I finished reading it to my eight-year-old yesterday, we were both riveted.
Ghosts [Raina Telgemeier/Scholastic]