Once, while looking at the shelves of my local library, one creepy cover caught my eye. It belonged to the graphic novel ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosogi. Soon, this comic would become one of my favorites.

ANYA’S GHOST tells the story of Annushka Borzakovskaya, otherwise known as Anya. She’s a Russian immigrant living in New England with her single mother and brother. Living an isolated existence at her conservative private school, Anya stumbles across a suspiciously friendly ghost named Emily Reilly. Drawn together by loneliness and curiosity, Anya and Emily develop a close friendship. However, their bond may eventually do more harm than good.

Image courtesy of First Second Books.

Émigré’s Experience

Part of why I connected to ANYA’S GHOST was because I related to the protagonist’s situation. Both Anya and I come from Post-Soviet backgrounds. We both live with immigrant families who often push too much food on us with side-dishes of love and guilt. Like Anya, I have often had to deal with my otherness every time someone stumbled over my name. Or when speaking to non-1st generation Americans who do not understand the cultural nuances of living in immigrant families.

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There are some differences between my own and Anya’s experiences. I was born and raised in diverse, liberal New York City with my Jewish-Russian-Ukrainian family. Meanwhile, Anya immigrated with her Russian-Orthodox family to conservative, mostly white New England. Nevertheless, Anya’s story resonated with me.

ANYA’S GHOST captured my identity in ways I rarely see in comics. There are several moments of cultural connection. With spoken Russian or mentions of food staples, such as сирники, the comic echoed my background authentically. Anya’s struggles in balancing her cultural heritage with American life rung true and deep.

Rarely do I get a book that reflects the specificity of my life, as a Russian-American from an immigrant family. This type of representation is important for immigrant families to feel like they are recognized in comics and media.

Image courtesy of First Second Books.

Feeling Like an Outsider

ANYA’S GHOST draws attention to a nuanced exploration of “outsider” identities. In the book, Anya connects to Emily out of a sense of being out of place with their surroundings.

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As an immigrant, Anya has struggled with her multicultural identity her entire life. She was teased for her accent and had trouble in ESL classes. To better detach herself from her “foreignness,” Anya works to assimilate to her environment. She distances herself from her Russian culture. As well as from other Russian immigrants, including Dmitry, a fellow student whose nerdiness attracts negative attention.

As a ghost, Emily straddles the realm between life and death. Since she is unable to live or “die,” Emily is jealous of Anya’s life. Anya can change her future, while Emily is trapped in her past.

Both Anya and Emily connect to each other through mutual heartache, feeling awkward and abnormal. They attempt to help each other find comfort, however clumsily or potentially harmful that may be. Emily often encourages bad habits in Anya, attempting to gain Anya’s trust by helping her cheat on tests. She also forces Anya to lie about the paranormal, isolating Anya from her best friend and family. Anya, feeling sorry for Emily and gratified by these favors, follows along. By doing so, however, she makes moral decisions that later weigh heavily on her conscience. As a reader, you ache for these characters, knowing exactly how it feels to be an “outsider” in some way.

Image courtesy of First Second Books.

ANYA’S GHOST – A Terrifyingly Good Read

Even years after reading ANYA’S GHOST, this comic is still one of the best graphic novels I have ever read. The author grounds the reader with a sympathetic look at a young woman’s anxieties about belonging while weaving a captivating ghost story into the narrative. As a Russian-American woman, I’ve found that Anya’s story has reflected a fictional mirror to my own life. Also, it is a story relatable to many immigrant and multicultural kids.

ANYA’S GHOST is an incredible story, captured through beautiful artwork, gripping storytelling, and relatable characters. If anything, this books needs to be on your TBR list for the new year.

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