Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (First Second, 2011, 224pp.)
Anya Borzakovskaya, a self-conscious teen born in Russia, finds it difficult to fit in at school in the US. Even though she’s lived in America since she was five and can speak perfect English, she still feels like an outsider and worries that her peers at school will always see her as “that girl from Russia with the unpronounceable last name.” And her well-meaning, very Russian mother certainly doesn’t help matters. Although Anya is trying to lose weight, her mother tries to feed her traditional homeland dishes (which Anya sees as greasy and fattening), and pesters her to make friends with Dima, a dorky new classmate right off the boat from the old country. The “ghost” element of this story is introduced after Anya wanders into a wooded area close to school and falls down a well. What does she find at the bottom of said well? A skeleton. And accompanying this pile of bones? A frail wisp of a ghost named Emily. She’s been trapped in the well ever since she fell down it some 90 years ago. Naturally, Emily is delighted to have company, but Anya is more interested in climbing out of the well than sticking around for small talk. When Anya is eventually rescued, Emily decides to follow her home. The two strike up a friendship—although Anya doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter, since this pesky spirit follows her everywhere. But Emily is determined to be a helpful friend.
After witnessing Anya’s hidden affections for a popular boy at school, she confesses that she herself she missed out on finding her one true love thanks to—well, being dead. After glimpsing an open page of a fashion magazine, Emily decides that the best way for a girl of the 21st century to catch a man’s eye is by dressing to impress. Although the outfits Emily choses for her are a little skimpier than Anya’s used to wearing, she finds confidence in her appearance and asks her crush out to a party. When she finds out that the boy is really a jerk, Anya leaves the party disappointed—but Emily isn’t ready to let her give up just yet. She’ll do anything to keep Anya from missing out on love, because what are friends for...right?
Although the Emily/Anya relationship ultimately dominates the plot, Brosgol is careful to make sure that her story isn’t just a ghost story, but also one about being an outsider. Although a bit whiny at first, Anya soon turns into a strong heroine who learns the importance of remaining true to your own principles. Aesthetically, the story’s art is simple but effective, with a color palette of only three colors: white, black, and purple. Although I found the choice somewhat unusual, the purplish hues help set the tone for this spooky story, and make the reading experience more enjoyable. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.