MMGM and #IMWAYR: Anya's Ghost, plus the Kidlit Lovers' Meetup!

So I've got a delightful review for you today, but first, I have a proposal...

The Kidlit Lovers' Meetup!

One of the reasons I've gotten back into blogging the last few months is that I've realized my social life needed a little love. And the two blogging groups I participate in, MMGM and #IMWAYR, have always made me feel so welcome and given me a space to talk about one of my favorite interests, as well as how it connects to my own life.

But somewhat surprisingly, although I've been reading some of y'all's blogs for nearly eight years, I've never spoken face-to-face with any of you! And I feel like now might be the time to change that!

So I'm proposing a Kidlit Lovers' Meetup, where we can hop on a video call for an hour or so and talk about books, reading, and more, and get to know each other a little better! I'm hoping to see as many of my fellow MMGM and #IMWAYR bloggers as possible—basically, if I comment on your blog, I'm hoping you can attend! And I know I have some readers of my own blog who don't have blogs of their own—you all are more than welcome to join too.

I haven't worked out all the details of this meetup, like what exactly we'll discuss, or if I'll make this a recurring event (such as monthly or bimonthly). I figure first, I should see if anyone is interested, and then second, see how the first meetup goes!

So! It would help me out SO MUCH if, whether you're interested in attending or not, you could fill out the interest form and help me figure out what to discuss, when to host the meetup, etc.

I know an event like this might feel a little out of the ordinary, or a little intimidating—trust me, I have social anxiety, so I get it. But my hope is that an event like this would take the wonderful connections we've built in the blogging world, and strengthen them even more. Y'all are really, really cool, and I want to hear what you have to say, beyond what you post about online—and I suspect I'm not the only one!

And now for an utterly ungraceful transition between topics...to my book review!

Middle Grade:

Anya's Ghost

Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
Graphic novel · 2011 · Re-review (see my original review)

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "Forever" part . . .

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend―even a ghost―is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.

Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

· · · · · ·

love this book!!!!! And I've loved it for many years—I reviewed it all the way back in 2017, when I was but a wee book blogger, and it's actually been out since 2011, paving the ground for all the MG graphic novels we adore today. I decided to re-read it (a) because I just read Vera Brosgol's newest graphic novel, Plain Jane and the Mermaid, and loved it too, and (b) because I didn't read any books this week, and a re-read felt more manageable than dealing with a whole new emotional journey at the last minute.

Before I get into why I love this book, I have to share a discovery I made. My dad has been reading a lot of novels by Haruki Murakami lately, and he was just telling me about one, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that involves abandoned wells. And then once I finished Anya's Ghost, which is about a girl who falls down an abandoned well, I turned to the Q&A with Vera Brosgol in the back of the book, and she says THAT EXACT BOOK is what inspired the well in this story. The minute I read that, I had to go interrupt what my parents were doing and tell them this—how wild that the exact book he was just reading is what inspired a book I've loved for so long, and how wild that I just learned about this!

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, let's actually talk about why Anya's Ghost is fabulous. In general, this book kickstarted Brosgol's tradition of stories that don't shy away from darkness and dark humor, that are fast-moving and cinematic, and that have impressively deep themes but don't hit you over the head with them.

I adore the characters in this book, not because they are perfect and wonderful, but because they are wildly imperfect and still wonderful. Though she would never admit it, Anya does have a loving heart, and she has a quiet confidence beneath the cynicism and exhaustion she carries around day to day. But she's not exactly a model human being when it comes to morality and kindness. She doesn't go out of her way to help people in need, whether it's classmates being bullied or the ghost she encounters in the story. She's always irritated by her younger brother, kind of for no reason. She smokes in an attempt to look cool, and she's not particularly studious. But let's be real—we've all been this person, at least to a degree. Especially in middle school, no one is a bastion of selflessness and compassion—we're all filled with hormones and frustration and confusion, and we do end up taking it out on other people. By not being idealized, Anya is actually relatable, and it helps that Vera Brosgol is going to put this girl through the wringer, and she's going to have to grow by the end of this story, however imperfectly. Really, all the characters in the story have this kind of ambiguity, where they do obviously wrong things but you love them anyway—Anya's sort-of-friend Siobhan is a prime example, as is the ghost who Anya meets.

Also, quick rant. Perhaps a little late in my development, I've become frustrated by that same opaque construct that so many middle schoolers and high schoolers are hyperfixated on—coolness. I've totally been doing that thing where I feel so completely uncool compared to other people, and feel like there's something about myself I need to fix, so I can fit in and be socially appealing to others. What I love about Anya's Ghost is that it deconstructs coolness by showing how it's all relative, and ultimately a made-up concept. Anya considers herself uncool, and she's hardly a popular kid at school. But to those who find themselves lower on the ladder of social status, she's immensely cool—and honestly, as a reader, I find her cool too. (And for deeper reasons than her maladaptive habits like smoking—I admire how unflappable she is amidst the chaos of private school.) Anya's existence quietly upends and confuses the concept of coolness, and I think every reader, myself included, benefits from this.

Anya's Ghost is filled with delightful trappings. It's got real-world themes related to immigration and fitting into a new culture, body image, and crushes/love (and the difference between them). It's also got the fantastical depth of what you do when your friend is a literal ghost who may or may not be dependent on you to have an enjoyable existence at all. (The existential weirdness of this reminds me of a graphic novel I honestly reviewed very negatively called Making Friends—I may have to revisit that review, but my point is, Anya's Ghost kind of tackles that same idea, in a way more fully baked into the story's core.) Also, this book is plenty dark, and creepy, and even scary in a way that I think kids will love—like with her more recent books, Brosgol trusts young readers to handle difficult themes and a touch of existential terror. I'm actually struck by some of the parallels between this book and the classic picture book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak—the stories are nothing alike, but the protagonists are both relatably flawed and ultimately lovable, and the stories bring a level of intensity and scariness that most books for young readers are afraid to engage with.

The last thing I'll say is that this book's ending is way more impactful than I remembered—it demands a surprising amount of empathy from Anya and readers alike, both for those we may think are above us, and for those we may think are far beneath us. I did shed a tear.

Anya's Ghost is a graphic novel classic, and for good reason. Vera Brosgol absolutely nails all the technical aspects of comics and storytelling, leaving room for her complex characters, emotional depth, and edge-of-your-seat plot beats to shine. This was one of the first graphic novels I ever read, spawning a love for the format that obviously persists to this day. And if you're new to graphic novels, make Anya's Ghost one of the first you read too—it is a phenomenal example of what the medium is capable of.

Before you go...please fill out the interest form for the Kidlit Lovers' Meetup!

Filling this form out helps me know who is and is not interested in attending, as well as how to format the meetup. I really appreciate your input!

That's all for now—see you next week, to talk about even more delightful books! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Ooh! Excellent idea! I'll even try to come, and I am usually rubbish at these. This morning, I find myself unable to find your Twitter handle (it's the end of the year this week); surely I know this? And follow you? Let's get a lot of interest in this!

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    1. I'm so glad you're excited to join, Karen—woohoo!!! And that's a great idea—I'm going to keep an eye on how much interest we get this week from MMGM and #IMWAYR, and then I'll follow up with you over email about maybe sharing with more folks. I really appreciate you stopping by!

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  2. I filled out your form. It sounds like a good idea. And I agree with you that characters need to be wonderful and imperfect for a story to be good.

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    1. I'm so glad you're interested, Natalie—I really hope (and expect) it will be a lot of fun!! And it really is wild how many books have these sort of picture-perfect protagonists who ultimately aren't as relatable for readers—I'm glad Anya's Ghost breaks that trend. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  3. I must admit that I still haven't read Anya's Ghost, though I'm reading another with a ghost right now & just got "Plain Jane. .." because of your great review last week, Max. Thanks for this also great review. I will try to get to it soon as I can. And, I'll fill out the interest form, hope you have people who will hop in!

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  4. Like Linda, I have yet to read Anya's Ghost. Need to fix that as I really enjoyed Plain Jane. I too filled out the form and am hopeful to see others who are interested. Happy MMGM

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  5. I remember really enjoying Anya's ghost though it's been a really long time since I read it. I love the idea of a video meet up and will attend if I am able. I'll go fill out the form now.

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  6. I like the "cool" factor you discussed for this book. Sounds like the author has a lot of important information for young readers. Thanks for such an informative review.

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  7. "Cool" is definitely a moving target, and often destructive. Now that I'm old, I've sort of become the "cool mom"--partly due to the same nerdiness that made me so danged uncool a million years ago back in Jr. High. I'm pretty much of an introvert, but I'll fill out the form and see what I can do about being social :)

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  8. This story sounds important on so many levels. The "coolness" factor you mention is definitely important. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could encourage every kid to celebrate their wild imperfection? Would love a MG book chat

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  9. I couldn't believe it when I saw your blog this week because as soon as I finished Plain Jane, I thought how much I'd like to reread Anya's Ghost! I read it when it first came out; I remember liking it but I don't remember any of the details at all, not even basic plot stuff. So I'm definitely ready for a reread. And thank you so much for dreaming up the idea of a kidlit meet-up. I think it's brilliant and I very much hope to participate.

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  10. I think I've heard you mention this book before! Based on your review, I really need to read this one. I'm going to have to see if I can track down a copy. :) Thanks for organizing the meet-up. It seems like a lot of people are interested! Yay! Hope you have a great week!

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  11. I'm hopefully going to find time later in the week to reply to all these comments, but I just wanted to say I appreciate y'all for filling out the interest form—there's definitely enough interest to kick this off! I'm going to leave it open for a little while longer (another week at most) to make sure I have the best info about scheduling. Then I'll reach out to everyone who expressed interest once there's a date and time! I'm excited to meet y'all!!

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  12. I love the Vera Brosgol book reviews I saw this week. I'll fill out the form after I post this comment. That'll be cool to see some Imwayr faces. I think I only met one kidlit blogger in person when they visited the bookstore I work.

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  13. This sounds like a fascinating book -- interesting that it is among the first graphic novels in 2011. Doesn't surprise me. Sorry I didn't post sooner, but I have been having a hard time posting on some blogs. Will give it another try. And will try to sign up for the Kid-Lit talk.

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  14. I actually made a "book trailer" video for Anya's Ghost as part of a children's literature class during library school!

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