Telgemeier, Raina. Ghosts. 2016.

This magical-realism tale begins with sisters Catrina and Maya moving with their parents to northern California. Teen Catrina is devastated to move away from her friends, but her younger sister Maya’s cystic fibrosis symptoms can be alleviated in the cooler foggier environment, and as a loving sister she is willing to make the sacrifice.

The girls explore their new community, Bahía de la Luna, and find that the town has a huge yearly celebration of Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. This ties in with the girls exploring more of their culture, as their mother was the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and regrets that she didn’t learn more about her heritage before her mother died. Carlos, a neighboring teen, introduces them to the ghosts of the community. That the ghosts are believed in and embraced as fact seemed a natural part of the narrative, for it matched the theme of Catrina needing to come to terms with Maya’s inevitable death.

Raina Telgemeier’s art work is instantly recognizable if you are familiar with her earlier graphic novels aimed at pre-teens such as Smile, Drama and Sisters. Her style is bright bold colors and she captures the angst of youth very well. I felt the way she handled Maya’s CF was realistic and respectful, and gave readers an idea of how family’s cope under such difficult circumstances. The Day of the Dead portrayal in the book was given appropriate deference, but I’d be remiss if not pointing out there was a bit of cultural appropriation in it and it was matched to Halloween night, which is inaccurate. I ran across this thoughtful article by Debbie Reese that had a different perspective on how American Indians are portrayed in children’s literature.

Despite a few shortcomings, this beautiful evocative tale brought me to tears. Don’t let the deceptively simple illustrations fool you into thinking that the storyline is basic, for this emotionally powerful story will stay with you. Family, community, and accepting death are tied together in this winning novel.