Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: First Second on June 7, 2011

Source: Borrowed

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Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part.View Spoiler »

Anya’s Ghost is a ghost story with heart. When teenage Russian immigrant Anya thinks that her life can’t get any worse, she falls into a covered well and stumbles upon the ghost of a girl whose body has lain undiscovered since WWII. Ghost-girl Emily is lonely and a bit of an odd-ball, just like Anya so it’s natural for the two to become friends. But when Emily’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic Anya is forced to wonder whether the ghost-girl has told her the complete truth behind her death…

While this has all the classic ghost story elements, what makes Anya’s Ghost so special is that it’s about a lot more than ghostly spookiness: it’s about the immigrant experience in North America, dealing with bullies, and loving yourself quirks and all. And believe me when I say that Anya has a lot to learn about all those things – she’s pretty awful to her family and fellow Russian immigrant Dima, calling them “fobby” and embarrassing. Thankfully Anya grows up and realizes that the only real problem with the people around her is her judgemental perceptions of them.

Those judgements are most visible in Anya’s relationships with the other kids at her school. Case in point: Anya hates this girl Elizabeth because she’s dating the school heartthrob (who Anya’s crushing on), calling her vapid and shallow because she’s a “perfect” girly-girl. But it turns out that Elizabeth doesn’t have a perfect life either, and Anya begins to realize that appearances can be pretty deceiving. Whoa, crazy! But really, it was refreshing to see the “bitchy popular girl” trope inverted. That one’s a little too pervasive for comfort, in my opinion.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Anya’s Ghost but it ended up being a pleasant surprise! While I’m certainly no expert on art I’ve got to say that I loved Vera Brosgol’s art style, especially the colour palette she chose. It’s not in black and white, nor is it in colour: it’s more like a series of blues and greys. Really quite striking.

Through the WoodsThrough the Woods by Emily Carroll

Genre: YA, Horror

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books on July 15, 2014

Source: Library

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It came from the woods. Most strange things do.

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.View Spoiler »

I’ve been seeing glowing reviews for Emily Carroll’s debut print work for a couple months now, but I knew that I had to read this graphic novel/story collection when I saw Patrick Rothfuss’ 5-star review on goodreads. Among other glowing statements about Carroll’s artwork and narrative voice, Rothfuss said that if he were to blurb the collection he would say this:

“This book freaked my shit out.” – Patrick Rothfuss

If you don’t find that intriguing then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. And after reading Through the Woods I feel qualified to say that it is indeed a book that will freak your shit out. Through the Woods is an unsettling collection of dark tales that flirt with the fantastical while remaining very much tied to the real world. Actually, a lot of the scariness in this graphic novel reminded me of classic urban legends. People fear the woods at night, strangers, and haunted mansions. A word to the wise: don’t try to read this before bed because it will take you ages to fall asleep. I lay awake unblinking for at least a half hour after finishing it.

The collection is comprised of five horror stories with a classic feel to them, with settings ranging from the distant past to the present. They are dark and haunting, and the artwork only increases that. As much as I adored the tales themselves, my favourite parts of Through the Woods were actually the panels at the very beginning and end of the collection where Carroll writes/draws herself into the story. There’s a particularly brilliant panel were she mimics the iconic artwork from the children’s picture book “Goodnight Moon” but gives it that eerie twist that seems characteristic of her work. Behold:

through the woods excerpt
Image: Emily Carroll

How freaking AWESOME is that? So creepy-good. For those of you who may not get the “Goodnight Moon” vibes here, the bedroom of Carroll’s younger self is modelled after the cover of the children’s book. Google it! I love little easter eggs like that – it’s always cool when authors/illustrators reward attentive readers.

Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods is perfect for those art aficionados out there, and I think it would be well-received by adults and teens alike. It’s definitely earned a spot among my favourite reads of 2014.