Published by: First Second
Format: Paperback graphic novel
Reviewed by: Judith
Rating: This sarcastic and poignant coming of age with a supernatural twist hits close to home and points out that so often what looks picture perfect just isn’t. YA + comics + supernatural = a spooky, gripping page turner for teens *and* adults. Get it for the beautifully crafted images and stay riveted by the profound message.
Plot: Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part . . .Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.Or so she thinks.
Review: As if navigating high school wasn’t difficult all on its own, Anya has a whole other slew of problems to deal with when a wayward ghost follows her home after two days trapped at the bottom of a well. At first the ghost seems friendly, helping Anya to improve her abysmal grades and with catching the eye of the unattainable boy on the basketball team. But when that supernatural help takes a turn into wholly dark and deranged territory, Anya realizes that friendship with a ghost isn’t at all what she needed to make her life better.
This book is everything I love about Young Adult: it pinpoints the darkest and most difficult aspects of teenage-dom and unflinchingly examines them. The angst of wanting to fit in, the fear of being different, the need to denigrate, it’s all here in stark black and white. Like any teenager, Anya wishes her life were different. She wishes her mother wasn’t a Russian immigrant; she wishes she was thinner or had better clothing; she wishes she were at a more prestigious school than the one her mother scrimps to put her in. She wishes for so many things that she fails to see what she does have and it is both agonizing and irritating in equal measure. If you are an adult reader, you will want nothing more than for Anya to realize how lucky she is, how much others would love to have the same opportunities she has; if you are a teen reader, you will be able to commiserate with her bleak viewpoint and desire to be someone, anyone, other than who she is.
The drawings are all rounded edges and soft purples and whites. They are cartoonish and juvenile yet a single frame can evoke so much emotion. One page of the ghost as she was in her human life literally gave me chills. I dare anyone to read those frames without flinching. The youthful art offsets some of the more adult themes in the book (teenage sex, drug use, swearing, unfaithfulness in a relationship) and drives home the fact that for however adult Anya may act, she’s still very much a child. A child transforming, yes, but not quite there yet. Not by a long shot.
Things you may not like: the end is satisfying but I would have liked to see a bit more of Anya’s emotional development; for younger readers, there’s a lot of swearing, drug use, and sex (off page); black and white drawings.
Things you will love: a poignant look at growing up as the child of immigrant parents; realistic portrayal of adolescence with an unflinching look at how a teen really feels about love, sex, cheating, and smoking; comics!