Book Review: Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol (2011)

February 13th, 2015 11:40 am by Kelly Garbato

Single White Lady

four out of five stars

What begins as somewhat typical tale of teenage angst morphs into something much darker when high schooler Annushka Borzakovskaya – Anya for short – takes a tumble into a long-abandoned well while cutting though the park on her way home from Hamilton School. There she finds the bones of one Emily Reilly, a young woman who was murdered ninety years ago, her body never found. Attached to the bones: Emily’s ghost, which follows Anya home upon her rescue. Anya accidentally swept up Emily’s pinky, along with her food and other belongings, you see. Or did she?

At first, Anya’s rather rude to the hapless, mousy Emily; a ghost could seriously damage her already lackluster reputation. But when Emily proves a helpful ally – helping Anya cheat on her bio test; scoping out the contents of her crush’s backpack; giving her a bitchin’ makeover and a boost of confidence to match – Anya happily embraces her new BFF, leaving the former title-holder Siobhan in the dust.

Before long, Emily’s interest in Anya’s life veers into Single White Female territory; and after a little digging, Anya discovers the shocking, sinister truth about Emily’s death.

While the ghost story/murder mystery provides the backbone of the story, it’s Vera Brosgol’s adept and compassionate handling of more mundane, real world topics that gives Anya’s Ghost its heart.

Anya’s family immigrated to New England from Russia when she was just five years old; in the interim, she’s worked hard to assimilate and just generally fit in to the morass that is high school (private high school, no less). She eschews her mother’s rich, greasy home-cooked meals in favor of salad and yogurt; a former fat girl, weight is always on her mind. (In an especially poignant panel, we see Anya the way she sees herself: body dysmorphic disorder much?) She aced ESL and now speaks English without an accent, so that she can “pass” as a native New Englander. She goes by Anya instead of Annushka, and introduces herself to her crush as Anya Brown. She even gives fellow Russian immigrant Dimo a wide berth, watching silently as he’s mercilessly bullied for being a “nerd” and a “foreigner.”

Anya isn’t always a nice person. My high school self can most certainly relate.

Likewise, “it girl” Elizabeth isn’t as put together as she seems, and Siobhan nails it when she dismisses Anya’s crush Sean as a dirt bag. Everything isn’t always as it seems; outward appearances can be deceiving.

My 36-year-old self also got a nostalgic kick out of the little HS details: the presidential physical fitness tests (the Bleep Test!); the horror involved in performing feats of athleticism in front of members of the opposite sex; the sketchy gym teachers; doing questionable things in the hopes of looking cool.

And can we talk about the artwork? The illustrations are bewitching. Rendered in shades of black, gray, and dark purple, Brosgol sets the mood: dark and creepy, but also a wee bit playful – and, ultimately, beautiful and spirited, just like Anya herself.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Anya and her family immigrated to the US from Russia when she was five years old. Part of the story involves her efforts to assimilate; for example, eschewing her mother’s Russian home cooking in favor of diet food (she also struggles with her weight); learning English and losing her accent, in order to pass as American-born; even steering clear of Dimo, a fellow immigrant who’s mercilessly bullied for being a “nerd” and a “foreigner.”

 

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