Big surprise: "Anya's Ghost" is about a ghost. And a girl named Anya. But Vera Nosgol's graphic novel is definitely a lot more than that, as it shows a young girl discovering the difference between what she thinks she wants and what she really does want. And her journey is intertwined with wry humor, the uglier layers of high school, and a ghost story that takes a very sinister, dark turn in the last third.
Anya is a fairly typical teen girl -- embarrassed by her very Russian family, unhappy with her curvy body, and enamored of the handsomest, most popular boy at school. On her way home, Anya accidentally falls down an old well. At the bottom, she discovers a ghost named Emily who died there ninety years ago -- and when Anya gets out, she accidentally brings Emily's finger bone with her, allowing the ghost to roam with her.
And at first, Emily makes everything better -- she sympathizes with Anya's woes, helps her on tests, and even helps her interact with her crush. But at a wild party, Anya discovers that the "perfect" teenagers don't quite have the perfect lives she thought. And after a bit of research into Emily's death, Anya realizes that her new friend has a horrifying dark side -- and unless Anya does what she wants, she's going to target Anya's family.
At first, "Anya's Ghost" feels like a 1980s John Hughes coming-of-age movie, only with the added twist of a ghostly companion. There's a lot of angst, crushes, school woes, and a teenage heroine who has to discover what is really important for her in life. And at first, it seems that this is a light little tale about a girl and her ghostly BFF. But everything takes a dark, spinechilling turn later in the story, especially since Emily suddenly develops a creepy, Single White Female-ish fixation on Anya's love life.
And Nosgol's stark, thick-lined artwork really enhances all the emotions the characters feel. The climax is absolutely, um, spinechilling, without any excessive flourishes. And the scene where Anya has an honest talk with the class outcast is touching without being maudlin.
And Anya herself is a startlingly realistic depiction of a teenage girl -- she's embarrassed by her odd family, tries desperately to fit in, and is uncomfortable with her curvy body. But before long, we see hints that her disaffected, sarcastic persona is just a shell, and that the real Anya is a much more reliable, goodhearted person. Emily is the flipside: she seems sweet, gentle and earnest at first, but grows increasingly creepy.
"Anya's Ghost" is one half ghost story, one half high-school/coming-of-age tale. And it's a superb, eerie story right to the end.