Review: In her latest graphic novel, Ghosts, Telgemeier tackles magical realism. Catrina and her family move north from sunny Southern California to the foggy though fictional town of Bahia de la Luna in order to make breathing easier for Cat’s little sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. The sisters meet their ghost-obsessed neighbor Carlos, who teaches them about the town’s traditions including celebrating the festival of Dia de los Muertos, which sparks a renewed interest in the biracial kids’ Mexican roots, especially their deceased abuela (grandmother). When the girls meet ghosts face to face, the results are scary both physically and psychologically, with Maya’s health declining and Cat’s anxieties escalating. However, the girls gradually learn the meaning behind the Day of the Dead celebration (there are obvious liberties taken in this part of the story which Telgemeier doesn't note at the end of the graphic novel), the sisters become more comfortable with the supernatural and get a chance to focus on the moment.
Like Telgemeier's other graphic novel hits, the plot moves at a nice place, building to moments of high emotion, often seen in enlarged panels or full-page illustrations. A muted color palette reflects the foggy, misty setting. Ghosts appear bed sheet–like from afar, but at close range resemble human skeletons with smiling faces, making them more approachable and even comforting than frightening. There is a nice balance between slice of life events from sisters arguing and potential romance for Catrina and Carlos. This is a fun graphic novel but I wished there was a cultural background note that discussed what the Day of the Dead entails and its history.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: There are potentially scary moments when the ghosts take shape of human skeletons when they come up close to the main characters. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.
If you like this book try: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol