Raina Telgemeier’s previous books have made childhood and adolescence palpable, exploring the issues the young face without pandering to a common denominator or passing judgement. Ghost is no different. With her new book, Telgemeier looks at death through the lens of the living and allows her characters to work out their conflicting sets of feelings in the context of an environment that both accepts and celebrates death.
Cat and her family have moved from Southern California to Bahia de la Luna in Northern California to accommodate her father’s new employment. The real reason, however, is because of Cat’s sister, Maya; she has cystic fibrosis and the fog and cold air will help her condition greatly. Shortly after settling in their new home, Cat and Maya explore the town, but something in the air freaks Cat out. They meet a local boy named Carlos who offers to take them on a ghost tour, but Cat refuses. The boy turns out to be their next door neighbor. At dinner one night in Carlos’ home, Cat’s family learns that Bahia de la Luna has a storied tradition of honoring the dead on Dia de los Muertos because the combination of fog and wind allows ghosts to absorb the essence of the living world. Cat masks her fears behind indifference while Maya embraces the town’s spirited inhabitants. The reasons are revealed much later; Maya seeks answers to the questions of her own impending mortality while Cat fears confronting her sister’s death.
Telgemeier’s art is first rate; the small gestures of everyday life move the narrative forward, but the art comes vibrantly alive when the characters experience the transformative beauty of the Dia de los Muertos rituals. Though nominally a book for young adults, the themes that Telgemeier tackles—the joys of young love and the specter of illness and death—are handled with an understated wisdom that most literary novelists find hard to pull off. Ghosts is a beautiful and life-affirming story with that satisfies on so many levels, especially about living in the here and now.
Ghosts, Scholastic, 9780545540612, $24.99 hardcover; 9780545540629,$10.99 trade paperback, http://amzn.to/2fCoOtW