Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 24

Anya's Ghost

by Vera Brosgol
Genre notes: school, immigrants, supernatural
224 pagesz
ISBN: 1596437138 (Amazon)

Anya’s Ghost is about three things. A girl named Anya, high school shenanigans, and, of course, a ghost. The joy is in the details of how the story all works out rather than in the genius of any of the three parts on their own.

In the first place, Brosgol works hard to make Anya a character who very easily could be weird or strange or unwelcome but isn’t. She’s a typical teen from an immigrant family. She herself is an immigrant and by her word we learn that she’s worked very hard to compensate for her inauspicious country of origin. She’s overcome her accent, acclimated to the cultural diversity of young American life, and doesn’t dress like someone who’s just discovered clothes. She’s also embarrassed by her native culture and goes to lengths to distance herself from that which will mark her as Foreign. Sometimes that means shortening an obnoxiously difficult-to-pronounce last name and sometimes it means forsaking the other kid from your country who hasn’t quite overcome his eager-foreigner tendencies yet.

Brosgol uses as much care with her exploration of the high school drama as she does in keeping her protagonist well-rounded. She doesn’t travel the typical lazy storytelling route of dividing the school into neat compartments. There are no jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, skaters, goths, or loadies in evidence here. There are no Heathers. Instead, there are just kids. And these kids have their social connections, but they aren’t divided down lines so plain as Extracurricular Interest. Anya has one best friend, an Irish girl named Siobhan, but she seems on friendly (or at least neutral) terms with most people. Dima, the Russian-extracted goodie-two-shoes, doesn’t pal around in a herd of nerds but simply offends on his lonesome. And Anya’s as-yet-unreciprocated romantic interest, Sean, is not the leader of the popular kids. He’s just a good-looking guy with a good-looking girlfriend. These are realistic persons forming a realistic net of relationships.

In a lot of ways, Anya’s Ghost explores the same cultural experience Gene Luen Yang looks at in American Born Chinese, the barrier between being true to our own identity and being accepted by the world around us. While Yang’s protagonist gets a perm and imagines himself white, Brosgol’s Anya is determined to be assimilated. Both books speak gently to the threat of alienation, to the social stigma attached to not fitting in. Both works, in the end, admonish the reader that fitting in isn’t the be-all, end-all of human—let alone high school—existence. And best of all, neither book comes off overly preachy in their lessons, which is always nice for stories that contain overt morals at book’s end.

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