by Vera Brosgol
This is a sweet, honest and spooky tale told in stylish graphic novel form. It’s one of a handful of comics I added to my Christmas wishlist on the back of Googling something like “best comics by women”, so it was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off.
Anya is in many ways an ordinary American teenager – she only has one close friend, Siobhan, and she’s given up on ever being popular, but she worked hard to hide her Russian accent and chooses her clothes carefully so that at least she isn’t a target for bullies. She worries about her body, about turning into her frumpy mother, about ever attracting the attention of hunky star of the school basketball team Sean. Normal. Until she falls down a well and finds the ghost of a girl who died 90 years ago and is longing for a friend.
The ghost makes for an interesting new friend – one who can spy on people for Anya and wholly accepts Anya’s word on what’s cool. (Incidentally, I personally think Anya’s taste rocks based on the posters in her bedroom: Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Metric, the Shins, Weezer…Pretty excellent.) However, the ghost is not an entirely benevolent force.
” ‘So was it totally hardcore and awesome?’
‘No, Siobhan. Sitting in a cold dirty hole was not awesome. It was gross and smelly and there was a— Oh, crap…There was this skeleton down there and I kiiinda forgot to tell anyone about it.’
…’Dude, we should go back and dig it up! How cool would it be to have a skeleton in your room?’
‘That would be the scariest thing ever, Siobhan.’
‘Duh! That’s the whole point.’ “
The story is told in stylish monochrome, in a simple bold style that reminded me a little of Bryan Lee O’Malley. Perhaps the story also helped that comparison, with its everyday strife ramped up by a touch of the fantastical. Anya isn’t perfect – she’s embarrassed of her Russian background to the point that she goes out of her way to ignore the one other Russian immigrant at her school, and she skives school, especially gym class, pretty frequently. But she’s trying.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The friendship between Anya and Siobhan is caustic in the way only good friends can get away with. The potential menace introduced by the ghost grows slowly, from a point of humour to the brink of horror. It’s an honest, compassionate portrait of being a teenager.
Published 2011 by Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan.
Source: Christmas present from my Mum.