I just wanted to write a quick book review of "Anya's Ghost" by Vera Brosgol. "Anya's Ghost" is a young adult graphic novel and a pretty decent little ghost story. In "Anya's Ghost," a sulky and disagreeable teenage girl named Anya tumbles down an abandoned well and meets a shy, polite ghost named Emily. Emily died in the 1920s after her family was murdered. According to Emily, the murderer chased her out of the house, whereupon she tumbled down into the same abandoned well, broke her neck, and died of dehydration. Emily's spirit languishes in the well for 90 years because she is unable to leave her bones. When Anya gets rescued, Emily is transported out of the well too because Emily's finger bone accidentally gets tangled in Anya's belongings.
The plot is decent but not too memorable. There are some twists that regular readers of thrillers and ghost stories will probably see coming a mile away (though the twists were a little surprising to me). More impressive however is that "Anya's Ghost" is a graphic novel told with NO narration boxes! Now that is very hard to do. In most graphic novels narration boxes are provided to give the artist a break. One quick narration box like "Later Emily and I went to the mall" and a panel showing Anya and Emily in a mall saves a whole bunch of drawing. Without a narration box the artist has to show a series of panels of Anya getting off her bed, Anya picking up her purse and Emily's finger bone, Anya walking down the stairs with Emily drifting after her, Anya walking out the door, Anya walking down the street, Anya walking to the bus stop, Anya sitting at the bus stop, Anya getting on the bus, Anya paying the driver, Anya sitting in the bus as it heads towards the mall, Anya getting off the bus, Anya walking inside the mall, Anya walking in the mall as Emily drifts beside her looking curiously at the shop windows.... all this to convey to the reader that Anya and Emily go to the mall. This type of purely visual storytelling can last pages and is a helluva lot of work to do for a graphic novel artist.... work that can be eliminated by one narration box of "Later Emily and Anya went to the mall." The lure of the narration box is strong with every graphic novelist. It's a great way to cheat a bit. Vera Brosgol resists the call of the narration box however, relying on dialogue and character as well as her own art skills to advance the plot in "Anya's Ghost." She pulls it off too! With no narration boxes the reader is able to get a much fuller view of Anya's world and Anya's character. This type of visual narration also helps stretch out suspense. Without going into too many spoilers here I will say that there are some GREAT, almost Hitchcockian suspense scenes going on at the end of "Anya's Ghost" that are magnified by the lack of narration boxes. I was on the edge of my seat watching Anya try to save her family and fix a frightening situation.
Another part of "Anya's Ghost" that I loved is the character of Anya. At the beginning of the book Anya is not a very sympathetic character. Even by moody teenage girl standards Anya is pretty nasty. She's in a bad mood all the time. When she falls down the well and meets EMily, she is very dismissive of Emily's tragic story and existence. Emily is such a polite and sweet little soul and Anya is very harsh towards her. Anya spends about two days down in the well. Then, while she is asleep, Emily hears two boys talking by the well. Emily wakes up Anya telling Anya that somebody has come and she needs to yell for help. Anya immediately does so and is rescued. Yet, as Anya is finally pulled up from the well, Anya makes no move or gesture to help Emily leave the well, like take a bone with her so Emily can finally leave the darkness and see the outside world. As Anya sees Emily's saddened face as the only person Emily has spoken to in 90 years leaves her behind...... Anya does nothing. Emily literally saved Anya's life and Anya doesn't do anything in return. When it later turns out that Emily DID leave the well with Anya, it was clearly through an accident on Anya's part and not through any intentional action where Anya wanted to help Emily in some way.
There is a really solid character arc with Anya. Throughout the story you see Anya slowly realizing how disagreeable and ungrateful she is towards her family and friends and how she needs to improve. It's hard to write a good character arc. It's even harder to write a good character arc in a graphic novel with no narration boxes! I was wowed by Brosgol's writing and pacing abilities. Her drawings are very attractive if a bit stylized. The pictures lay out the story cleanly. The dialogue and pacing keep the plot tight and pretty compelling. The characters are very well fleshed-out (with a few exceptions such as a silly subplot involving a boy Anya likes and the boy's popular girlfriend) and the book overall is a very satisfying read. If you have an hour to yourself (the story goes fast, you can read it in 45 minutes) and a hot cup of coffee do give "Anya's Ghost" a read.
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