Review: ‘Anya’s Ghost’ by Vera Brosgol

I’m not a big reader of comic books, generally speaking. It’s not because I don’t like them – I actually adore the medium, and my devotion to webcomics speaks for itself – but the standard serialized format can be a lot to keep up with. However, graphic novels are a different thing altogether, and sometimes I find one that just blows me away.

I picked up Anya’s Ghost years ago, I don’t remember why, and I suppose I must have read it at the time. I’d forgotten everything about it by the time I picked it up for a reread, and I’m glad – because getting to experience it all over again was absolutely worth it.

Anya’s Ghost follows a Russian girl living in America as she struggles to fit in, ‘Americanize’ and avoid being identified as fresh off the boat. When she falls into a well, she meets a ghost named Emily, who says that she’ll be her new best friend. In a different genre, this could be a set-up for a sweet coming-of-age story; instead, while it’s still about Anya growing up, it takes a sharp turn into horror as Emily’s nature is revealed.

I always hesitate to call books ‘feminist’ in and of themselves, but it’s hard not to apply that label to Anya’s Ghost, mostly because the comic is so naturally and effortlessly centered around female friendships and relationships. Anya struggles with disordered eating and body image problems, and a disconnect from her mother and her culture. Elizabeth, the girlfriend of Anya’s crush, is stuck in a toxic relationship. Siobhan, Anya’s best friend, is entitled and rough around the edges, but still trying her best to look out for her friend where she can. And Emily, the titular ghost… oh man.

I think possibly the best part of this comic – a hard choice between its pacing, its writing, its art – is how it handles its central conflict. I’m trying to keep this spoiler-free, but it is refreshing to see a conflict resolved with compassion and understanding, without letting manipulative and terrorizing behavior off the hook. Giving people second chances is important… but not if they don’t know what they’ve done wrong.

Anya’s Ghost is a 5/5 for me, and I’ll be hunting down some more of Vera Brosgol’s work. I highly recommend this, particularly for folks interested in reading about immigrant experiences, toxic friendships, and/or nonviolent resolutions to stories.

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