Thursday, October 09, 2014

Reader's Diary #1073- Vera Brosgol: Anya's Ghost

I was a little reluctant to read Vera Brosgol's Anya's Ghost so soon after reading Faith Erin Hicks's Friends with Boys. Two teenage girls being haunted by female ghosts? I didn't want to get in such a specific rut. But I'm glad I did.

I actually thought the two books ended up feeling very different from one another. There's a certain naive sweetness to Maggie of Friends with Boys that is lacking in Anya. Not that Anya isn't unlikeable, but there's a cynical edginess to her. As a teenager I think I would have related more to Anya. Plus, the significance of the ghost in Friends with Boys is less obvious than Anya's ghost who clearly provides the antagonist.

Anya is walking along one day, preoccupied with her frustrations, when she falls into a well. Here she meets a ghost girl named Emily who'd fallen in 90 years prior. Fortunately for Anya, her stint in the well isn't as long. Unfortunately for Anya, Emily hitches a ride out with her when Anya is rescued. At first it seems Anya has gotten a true friend out of experience, as Emily helps her cheat on tests, gives her boy advice, and so on. But before long, Casper the Friendly Ghost becomes Single White Female and Anya has a new problem on her hands.

Throughout the ordeal, Anya learns many valuable lessons: to appreciate her heritage, accept that nobody's life is perfect, the importance of being oneself, and so on. Despite that, the only message that I thought came on too strong was an anti-smoking message. Near the end Anya remarks, "I don't think I ever liked [smoking]. And it doesn't look as cool as I thought it did." It seemed more after-school special than the rest of the book. Otherwise the story just reads as a wonderful coming-of-age/ ghost story.

The illustrations seem simple on the surface. I thought the characters like something Charles Schulz would have done had he tried manga.  But there are occasional glimpses of more complexity. I loved, for example, this scene where Anya is at a party and breaks the fourth wall, staring at the reader from the very center of the panel as if pleading with us to help her out of this awkward situation:
Or a scene where she's tuning out her teacher's long, boring lesson. Check out the ingenious way Brosgol has made the words run right out of the panel:

One beef I had with the book, and I'm as of yet undecided whether or not it's major, is the idea that an uncovered well has been this close to the city for 90 years, easily found, and no one besides Anya and Emily have fallen victim to it. And even after Anya is rescued, no one seems to be in much rush to cover or fill it in (it is eventually). Inconvenient as it was for the two girls, it seemed a bit too convenient for Brosgol. Stick a lid on that plot hole already!


Melwyk said...

Well...I'd agree with you on this one ;) I'm so glad you've read this -- it was one of the first graphic novels I read that I really enjoyed, and that made me want to continue exploring this format a bit more. I liked the subtle details that you pointed out, and I really enjoyed meeting Anya. Much more stubborn than naive -- like you, I would have related to her as a teen.

Becca said...

Isn't this book great? I might re-read it one day, and I am not a re-reader.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I never before considered the subtle possibilities, such as breaking the fourth wall or running words off the page, that the graphic novel format could offer to the narrative. How clever!

John Mutford said...

Melwyk: Why do you seem shocked that we agree on a book???

Becca: I'm not a re-reader either. The good thing with graphic novels though is that a reread wouldn't necessarily be overly time consuming.

Barbara: I highly recommend Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics if you really want to appreciate all the subtle things comics can do. And once you read it, those devices no longer seem so subtle.