Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #140: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

I really have made a habit of falling behind on my reviews, haven’t I? This time, there’ll be a run of 17 total, about three weeks of reading, before I’m caught back up. September 25th is when I finished Anya’s Ghost, and I’m wishing I had at least scribbled myself some notes to reference whenever I got around to reviewing it. Alas, I did not, yet I like to think I haven’t forgotten the main point I hoped to make, which is that this graphic novel is a lot more grim than its semi-playful cover would lead you to think. Hidden behind that mischievous smile is a ghost more Zuul than Casper.

Everyone talks up how scary Coraline is, but Anya’s Ghost bests it in that department, I think. Coraline is eerie, yes; Anya’s Ghost, however, is sinister (as a graphic novel aimed at the young adult crowd’s going to get). Brosgol lets it creep up on you, then just lets those shadows envelop and constrict you until the very last pages. Though I fear I might be doing it a disservice by warning you. The element of surprise played a key role in this story affecting me to such a degree; now that you’re braced for it, chances are you’ll come back to tell me I was overreacting. Mayhaps I am. But believe me when I tell you thatAnya’s Ghost goes into some dark places and, for a time, calls them home.

What it fails to do is provide either the story or its characters, the titular ghost included, a fully-realized arc. Anya’s Ghost, in its own way, teaches valuable life lessons, yet it’s more campfire story than story proper. She has the bare bones for a meatier story but never fleshes them out. I liken it to a newcomer to Fringe choosing his or her starting point out of a hat containing only the show’s more monster-of-the-week-esque episodes. Although these episodes don’t ignore the overarching plot entirely, a newbie would probably feel unfulfilled because they burst in in medias res and weren’t given much assistance in acclimating themselves to this new world and the characters which populate it.

Brosgol knows how to write characters; why else would I want so much to get to know them? Her shortcoming is she doesn’t let them be characters, so to speak. Characters move and influence the plot, whereas the ones in Anya’s Ghost are influenced by it. Once that plot wraps up, so does the story, even if it prematurely ends the stories I was more interested in (i.e., the characters), namely Anya’s. All she lacks, to my eyes, is confidence. In her eyes, she’s fat; in mine, she’s a teenager blessed with the curves of a grown woman. Like Norah in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, I can’t buy that she’s not the one boys are getting hung up on. That may be my bias speaking, as Norah and Anya are my type exactly, at least physically (Norah’s a lost cause otherwise), but you won’t ever convince me that they wouldn’t have their share of guys to choose from if they simply stopped this self-defeating bullshit.

After all she goes through in Anya’s Ghost, she should be poised to blossom and that is what I wanted out of this story. I didn’t realize it at first, but I wanted her to be accepted, namely by herself, and I felt cheated out of seeing that happen. Brosgol lays the groundwork for that eventual development, yes. There are promising signs. I just want more. Immediately upon finishing it, I wanted a sequel, not out of love for it, but out of dissatisfaction with the resolution of the first. Leave a story open-ended if that’s your prerogative; Rainbow Rowell practically refuses to tie up her loose ends and I love her both for and in spite of that. I’m open to an open ending as long as what precedes it is satisfying enough to earn it; Anya’s Ghost is not. It has elements that could be satisfying if acted upon fully, but Brosgol partly fails in doing so. Still, I must credit it, and her, for all that potential, no matter that it’s largely unrealized.

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