Author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier is known for her family-relationship storytelling in her accomplished works such as SMILES and DRAMA, all New York Times bestsellers and she has many more notable rewards. Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, GHOSTS, unveils hidden staircases, secret beaches and so much more. In this terrific new book, sisters Catrina and Maya move to foggy city Bahía de la Luna with their parents to ease Maya’s illness, cystic fibrosis. One of the girls’ biggest fears is leaving their old friends behind but they soon discover that this town has a spooky ghost story of its own.
Bahía de la Luna is a culturally diverse town in Northern California known for celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The sisters are reluctant to make this move but their family knows it will help Maya’s breathing condition. Soon after their arrival, they meet neighbor and local ghost tour guide, Carlos. Carlos insists that ghosts play an important role in their town and that they should expect many ghostly appearances as the countdown to Dia de los Muertos begins. For many reasons Catrina is frightened by ghosts, but little sister Maya wants to learn as much as she can about them.
"Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, GHOSTS, unveils hidden staircases, secret beaches and so much more. GHOSTS will inspire readers to learn about new traditions and ask questions about their own. This story shows the significance of cultural identity and learning to face your fears."
Over the school year, a small romance blossoms between Carlos and Catrina. The more time Catrina spends with Carlos, the more Maya’s fascination grows with ghosts. Excitement over ghosts makes it harder for Maya to keep her coughing fits under control and one day while ghost hunting, Maya lands in the hospital. The difficulties of Maya’s grim health gives Catrina a heavy heart but the downtime at home allows the girls to discover a part of their Mexican culture that they had never experienced before: new food, new music and a fearless approach to speaking about loved ones who have passed and Maya’s health scares. Catrina learns to face her fears at the big Dia de Los Muertos celebration and to embrace all the positive things in life.
GHOSTS’s Bahía de la Luna has a rich Latin culture and a smalltown vibe that presents values that are not often present in children’s literature. Magical realism is also often associated with Latin-American literature. From the beginning, the entire town anticipates Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The story leads us through Catrina’s journey of her making the most of her new home in order to aid her younger sister. I appreciated the breakdown of the storytelling and the inevitable confrontation that Catrina has with her fear of ghosts and ultimately her fear of death. I found myself sharing the scenes of Maya handling her medical equipment with my sister. The detail and emotion of her daily routine and how involved her entire family is in these situations adds a layer to the storytelling that I think should be more common in children’s books. The Mexican community is also very supportive and Catrina, being half-Mexican, discovers new traditions while her Mexican mother reminisces over traditions that had since been lost with the death of her own mother. Telgemeier’s characters admit to not knowing their own culture very well, which I believe many second and third generation Mexican-American families can relate to, such as not learning their native Spanish language.
GHOSTS will inspire readers to learn about new traditions and ask questions about their own. This story shows the significance of cultural identity and learning to face your fears and the very important sentiment that “Everyone who lives in Bahía De la Luna is invited to the party”!
Reviewed by Julia Luedtke on September 27, 2016