Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya is a Russian girl trying to grow up in America. While her mother prepares fatty Russian treats, Anya is trying to lose weight and look like the lissome American girls who all the boys seem to go for. But she doesn't have a lot of friends, and she's fixated on Sean, a handsome, totally American guy. But he only seems to have eyes for Elizabeth, his current girlfriend, who is very tall and very blonde. Still, he seems to occasionally pay attention to Anya, but while she thrills for those moments, most people tend to pair her in their minds with Dima, a short Russian boy whose mother is friend with Anya's mother.

But one day Anya, seeking to run away from her school responsibilities from School for a while, falls into a hole in the ground and is trapped. She's not alone in the hole, but finds herself face to face with a real ghost. Terrified by the experience, she tries to deny what she is seeing, but when her cries for help are finally heard, it's after she has somewhat come to terms with the situation and actually begun to talk to the ghost. Once she is rescued, she forgets all about how she promised to help the ghost in the well find out who murdered her- until she finds the ghost manifesting in her house as well.

It turns out the Ghost, named Emily Reilly, can't go far from her bones. But somehow, one of her fingerbones fell into Anya's backpack while she was trapped in the well. Anya doesn't really want any reminders of her time in the well, but when Emily helps her out at school, Anya agrees to let Emily stay around, and turns Emily's fingerbone into a necklace so she can keep her always near. In return for her help in school, Anya starts educating Emily about the modern world, and Emily decides to help Anya find happiness with Sean in return for everything she's learning about modern life and help in finding her killer.

But Anya's experiments in attracting Sean don't go very well, and when she invites herself to a party that Sean and Elizabeth are attending, she finds out firsthand that her dreams are not going to come true. Sean is gay, and Elizabeth is acting as his beard for reasons of her own which she refuses to explain. This turns Anya way off Sean and sours her on the whole idea of a romance with him. But Emily isn't put off by Anya's disinterest and tries to keep putting them together, insisting that Anya will be much happier if she just lets Emily guide her into finding love with Sean. In fact, it soon stops being Romantic and starts getting creepy, and Anya quickly wants to get rid of Emily for more reasons than just solving her murder and helping her find her ultimate rest.

But as she researches Emily's past, Anya soon comes to the realization that Emily has lied to her. Not only has lied to her, but has been lying the entire time, and her obsession with bringing Anya and Sean together comes out of her own past life, which went horribly wrong and ended up with her dying. But as Emily resorts to terror tactics to try and bring Anya around and make her do what Emily wants, Anya realizes that Emily has grown stronger for being around Anya. Perhaps too strong for Anya to deal with. But how can she deal with the now-malevolent ghost of Emily and get rid of her for good, and what lessons will dealing with Emily bring to Anya's own life?

I really enjoyed this book. The frustration that Anya has with being who she is and how her mother just doesn't get that Anya wants to fit in with the kids she sees around her and not be as firmly Russian as her mother is. But she's allowed her wanting to be like the rest of her classmates to obscure her connection to those who truly love her- her mother and little brother. It takes her association with Emily, and her disillusionment with young love with Sean to make her see what really matters. And then she has to become an adult and deal with what she has unwittingly unleashed.

Being someone who didn't fit in myself, I understood what Anya was feeling, and by the end of the book, not only does Anya see being strange or unlike others to be not a bad thing, but she actually enjoys it. Mainly this is a tale about being grown up and having to accept who you are to be happy. There are things you can change about yourself, and maybe things that you should- but there are also things you can't nor should you try to change, and being able to accept them is a good thing, this story tells us, with the additional messages that getting good grades by cheating isn't as satisfying as earning them yourself.

This was an interesting ahd enlightening book, and while the parts at the beginning where Anya is being upset at her life and dissatisfied with who she is was slightly painful and unpleasant to read, the book soon changed and lifted me up through to the end, which I enjoyed a great deal. Young readers will find a lot to enjoy, and the narrative is never heavy-handed or preachy. Recommended.

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