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Since it’s October, I want to highlight some titles that deal with the paranormal, supernatural, or may be a little creepy. And there are some fantastic ones!
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol has gotten a lot of praise, and it’s well-deserved. Besides an unusual story that really plays with what it’s like being an outsider in school, it also highlights the immigrant experience through Russian protagonist Annushka (Anya).
Unpopular Anya falls into an old well walking through the woods one day, where she meets ghost Emily, who fell down the well and died nearly 90 years before. Shy and homely, Emily feels like Anya is a kindred spirit and wants to help her, but can’t leave her skeleton. Soon after, Anya is rescued by a someone passing through.
Emily pops up again when it turns out that Anya somehow accidentally removed one of Emily’s finger bones. After Emily helps Anya cheat at school and attracts the attention of Sean, Anya decides to let Emily stay around. After Emily tells Anya about the tragic occurrences that led to her death, Anya agrees to help figure out who murdered Emily in exchange for help with her popularity. Through all this, Anya slowly drifts from her friend Siobhan and Emily slowly begins to care less about finding the identity of her murderer, becoming more obsessed with Anya’s life and standing, even changing her own appearance and habits as things move along.
After it’s revealed at a party that Sean is allowed to cheat by his girlfriend, Anya leaves, angering Emily. She then starts to research the dead girl’s murder and finds out that the circumstances are far from the story she was told by the ghost. Emily continues to grow more controlling, even threatening Anya’s family unless she plays along. Eventually things are resolved, but I won’t spoil that for you.
There are a lot of fantastic things about this book, and I really like the plot twists and slowly-raising stakes. Both Emily and Anya have their unlikeable aspects, and I think it’s important to recognize that in characters. There’s a bit where Emily claims that they’re not all that different, and that realization and rebuttal really drives home a lot of the story for me. While this book features a ghost, it really is about relationships: Anya’s ties to her family, her nationality and heritage, her relationships at school, her friendship with Siobhan, and even how she sees herself. The presence of Emily augments all that.
I feel like this is a decent take on school personalities, and some of the twists and reveals interested me because they didn’t go the way I’d assumed they would, which is nice. This isn’t the typical high school clique plot with a ghost. There are a few parts that felt a little off to me, but overall, I really like this book. There’s a sense of searching that rings very true, as well as a sense of meanness, despite characters having an overall “good” nature. Anya isn’t a completely innocent protagonist, and though some interactions are slightly uncomfortable to read, I think it’s great that they’re done that way. That’s much truer to life than good girl gets in bad situation. The illustrations really augment the personalities and the slow build to the book’s unnerving climax. I was definitely invested in this title as I read, and part of that is all because of the art.
This would probably be great for middle school and above, or anyone who just loves a great, unusual story with some really nice art.
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