Anya Borzakovskaya attends a private school even though her mother can barely afford it. Despite being curvy in all the right places, Anya worries about her body and that she might one day be obese like her mother. She also worries about being seen as an outsider and has worked hard to eliminate any trace of her Russian accent. She's been in America since she was five, and all she feels she has to show for it is fitting in slightly better than the only other Russian immigrant at her school, the "fobby" -- to use a word that First Second apparently wants in everyone's lexicon -- and nerdy Dima.
But when Anya falls down a well and discovers the spirit of a girl about her age who died at its bottom, a typical teen angst narrative takes a tantalizing turn for the weird and creepy. By story's end, Anya has to grow up a bit and realize what is most important about family and self.
Or, to put it in cheesy film preview language, "A girl so worried about her weight is about to get some exorcise!"
Vera Brosgol's Anya's Ghost (2011, First Second) has been compared to Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, and surely Brosgol is paying homage to First Second's most commercially successful graphic novel to date. While the story is creepy cool and Anya is an attractive, relatable main character who deals with similar feelings as did Yang's, I do not see this book earning a National Book Award nomination. Maybe a Printz, and most-likely high praise from ALA.
Neil Gaiman has called the book a masterpiece, and certainly its themes and integration of the uncanny appeal to him. They appeal to me too, and I do think this is a very good, well-written, compelling graphic novel that meshes elements of the typical teen bildungsroman, the immigrant narrative, and the ghost story. While I do not think it will come to be seen as one of the best graphic novels ever published, as many consider American Born Chinese, Anya's Ghost holds its own and may be even more interesting to read to its target audience than ABC.
But, you know, there's nothing wrong with not being considered the best by everyone but still being considered among everyone's favorites. And as end-of-narrative Anya will tell you, even that isn't all that.
Comparisons to other texts aside, Brosgol has crafted an engaging narrative that nails the teen experience while adding a supernatural twist that should keep this graphic novel on the minds of adolescents and teachers for years to come.