The One Praised by Neil Gaiman

Vera Brosgol, Anya’s Ghost (2011)

The sentence is the first thing you see at the top of the book: “A masterpiece” by Neil Gaiman. I  don’t normally focus on blurbs and famous writers’ references. Nor did it influence me into reading this book in the first place.

But after I finished the book and was still deep into its dark and grey atmosphere, I tried to find what it made me think of, and I noted this blurb. I found it so meaningful, that I used it as one of my arguments to convince my colleagues to put this YA graphic novel on the acquisition lists for graphic novels at my workplace.

This book was on my radar for quite a while when I bought some YA graphic novels in English for the library, but it didn’t make the short list at that time (in case you are wondering what I bought instead: “Smile” by Telgemeier, and “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson). I must say that the art made me think strongly of Telgemeier, and the ghost theme reminded me of Telgemeier’s Ghosts, so I didn’t buy, but how wrong I was! It’s nothing like Telgemeier.

It starts quietly enough with a yet another high school student struggling with her immigrant identity (this time Russian): well-meaning parents who want her to succeed but don’t really get the American life, nerdish friends, an annoying sibling, a love interest who doesn’t look at her, yada yada yada. It is a bit cliché, until the story takes a sharp turn when Anya finds the bone of a deceased girl at the bottom of a hole in a park, and the spirit of the girl, Emily, comes out and befriends Anya. Anya is a lonely girl and this friend who has a lot more “depth” (pun intended) is first a boon to her teenaged, second-guessing self. Emily is 90 years old and she died in mysterious circumstances, and she’s so happy that Anya gave her a second chance at girlhood, until…

It’s snarky and dark and scary, and it doesn’t pull punches (for a middle-grade/YA, that is). You expect warm and fuzzy feelings due to the round, naive art and then you end up with a mean ghost that’s really evil. It’s not totally an apt comparison but it reminded me of the 1990s movie Scream, that had all the ingredients of the classic teenage movie, and inserted scary stuff for entertainment sake. I loved it! (Incidentally, my 9 yo son read it and he was scared stiff… so it’s probably for slightly older kids)

Btw, this is the last of my 2017 books to be reviewed, and coincidentally, and it took me a whole month to finish those posts! I think it calls for shorter and quicker posts, my friends, because my 2018 are all waiting in line now!

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