Anya Borzakovskaya is a teenage Russian immigrant trying to fit in at a private school. She’s embarrassed about her background, having lost her accent as soon as possible, and tells Sean, a boy on the basketball team whom she likes, that her last name is “Brown.” And she wants nothing to do with a boy named Dima, a fellow immigrant, who, in Anya’s words, acts like he’s fresh off the boat.
Her relationship with her family isn’t much better. She finds her younger brother, Sasha, annoying; and her mother doesn’t seem to understand that teenage girls in the U.S. don’t want to put on weight.
Her life changes when she cuts through a park, lost in her angry thoughts, falls into a dry well and meets Emily Reilly.
The late Emily Reilly.
That’s the situation in the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.
Emily can’t go very far from her bones, so lucky for her Anya accidentally scooped up one of Emily’s finger bones into her backpack when someone heard her cries and threw down a rope.
Or was Anya taking the bone along an accident?
Already shaken up by falling into the well, seeing a skeleton and meeting said skeleton’s ghost, Anya is shocked to discover that Emily has followed her home. She considers this ghost a pest— until Emily helps her with her biology test.
Anya subsequently decides to let Emily stay a little longer.
She has finals coming up, after all.
Anya and Emily soon become fast friends, with Anya sometimes spending more time with Emily than with her flesh and blood friend, Siobhan. And Emily helps Anya gain some self confidence.
Over time, however, Emily undergoes a personality change. She starts smoking a ghost cigarette and she’s developed a bit of an attitude. But by the time Anya discovers Emily’s dark side, it appears that she hasn’t a ghost of a chance of getting rid of her phantom friend.
Anya’s Ghost— which won the 2012 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Young Adults (Ages 12–17) and the 2012 Harvey Award for Best Original Graphic Publication for Younger Readers— is an enjoyable story with engaging characters. Yet another example of how comics offer a wide variety of subjects and stories beyond the traditional superheroes. Anya is sympathetic throughout; and over the course of the book, she learns important things about both herself and others.
I also like that the story has Anya discovering A) that not everything can be found on Google; and B) the resources of the public library. Ironically, it’s Dima who shows her how to use the microfilm machine, something she’d never heard of. I suspect that’s true of a lot of teenagers these days.
Anya’s Ghost is published by First Second Books and well worth seeking out.
Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.