Anya’s Ghost, a debut graphic novel by Vera Brosgol, begins as a simple story about teenage Anya, whose morning routine with her mom and brother reads as real, routine, and funny. Her request for “low-fat pop-tarts or something” instead of the Russian food her mom serves up (and Anya remarks “Those things are so greasy!”) begins the novel, carefully detailing the day that Anya meets a ghost.
After fighting with her friend Siobhan at school (who suggests that Anya’s boyfriend is Dima, who is also Russian, although Anya calls him “fobby” – Fresh Off the Boat. Siobhan notes, “I figure you guys got pretty well-acquainted back in the breadlines”), a distracted Anya walks to the park, where she immediately falls down a well. A bad situation gets even worse once Anya lights a match and illuminates the skeleton of a dead body resting at the bottom of the well with her.
The bones are those of a young girl, about Anya’s age, and her ghost is attached to them. She has to stay in close proximity to her own bones (since she also fell down the well, just years and years before Anya) and when a small piece of her finger bone ends up in Anya’s bag when she’s rescued, the ghost, Emily, follows her home.
At first, Anya thinks it’s pretty great. Emily feeds her answers in class and helps her cheat by hovering over the tests of her classmates and bringing back the correct answers. She helps Anya dress up for a party and gives her advice about how to get with the guy she likes. But Anya slowly figures out that Emily is not so benign a ghost at she at first appears. Although Emily explains to Anya that she was murdered, and ended up at the bottom of the well, Anya comes to find out that the reality is a whole lot worse. What begins as a simple teenage story evolves into something a something more, and connecting Emily with Anya makes for a strange friendship that both girls seem to rely on.
This story seems made precisely for the graphic novel format. Anya’s expressions are priceless, and Brosgol’s illustrations make the young adult and teen aspects of this novel so effective. For example, there is a scene near the beginning of the novel where Anya thinks the cute guy she likes is waving at her, and the devolution of her expression from hopefulness to embarrassment with the understanding that he is actually waving at his girlfriend is perfectly executed. And then there’s the section of the novel dedicated to Anya having to take the “Bleep Test” in gym class, running a series of sprints back and forth across the gym that is just as great.
Anya’s Ghost is a haunting (and genuinely scary!) ghost story that is completely set in a teenage world. It’s funny, humorous, and frightening, and is definitely worth picking up.