Fiction, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Speculative Fiction


ghostsby Raina Telgemeier

ISBN 978-0-545-540629

“No, girls. November first. It’s a day to welcome back the spirits of the loved ones we’ve lost. I haven’t celebrated in years.”

Cat’s family has just moved to Bahía de la Luna, leaving behind their life in southern California. Cat is sad to be separated from her friends, but the coastal weather will be better for her sister’s health. Maya has cystic fibrosis, and the cool seaside air may help her struggling lungs. Bahía de la Luna turns out to be haunted, and the residents of the town take living alongside ghosts for granted. This terrifies Cat, but Maya is determined to meet a ghost for herself. Unfortunately for Cat, their new neighbour Carlos knows all the best spots as the local tour guide, including the abandoned mission. In order to help her sister, Cat will have to face up to her own fears.

Back in April, I received a preview of the first twenty-three pages of Ghosts at Emerald City Comic Con. I was excited by the potential of the story, because it features sibling relationships—one of Raina Telgemeier’s signature strengths—while venturing into fantasy where Telgemeier is generally known for her realistic contemporary stories. But by summer and early fall, I was seeing a series of blog posts that raised concerns about certain details of the story. I cancelled my pre-order, and put the book on hold at the library instead. Due to Telgemeier’s popularity, I only recently topped the holds queue and finally got to read Ghosts in full.

The strongest aspect of Ghosts is undoubtedly the sibling relationship between Cat and Maya. Cat’s parents have given her extra responsibility as the older sister, because in addition to keeping an eye on Maya, she must also be hyper-aware of the consequences of any choice on her sister’s health. Cat struggles with this role, and when Maya is too sick to start school in Bahía de la Luna, she doesn’t tell her new friends she even has a sister. Like the other members of her family, Cat is afraid of what will happen to Maya, because there is no cure for cystic fibrosis. And Maya is keenly aware of her own mortality, which plays into her determination to meet a real ghost who can help her understand what is waiting for her.

lacatrinatelgemeierAs I mentioned above, other readers have highlighted a couple of aspects of Ghosts that are problematic. Debbie Reese has called out the fact that Ghosts glosses over the history of California’s Catholic missions, which existed primarily to force the conversion of the Indigenous population. The abandoned mission plays a crucial role in the story as the most haunted place in the fictional Northern Californian town of Bahía de la Luna. Others, such as Faythe Arredondo and Laura Jiminez have pointed out additional problems with Telgemeier’s depiction of Dia de los Muertos.

ghostssketchbooktelgemeierFor my part, I noticed that on page 43 and 44, Cat’s mother corrects her when she equates Dia and Halloween. But this one line of dialogue is pretty thoroughly undermined by the fact that later in the story Cat dresses up as La Catrina for Halloween. This image (page 158) is much more likely to stick with readers than a single line of dialogue from early in the book. Telgemeier also includes a Sketchbook page in the back of the book, showing her early ideas for Ghosts as far back as 2008. Maybe it is the fact that these sketches aren’t in colour, but all of the characters look white, causing me to wonder if the diversity of Ghosts may have been grafted on later.

Ghosts will no doubt remain popular due to Telgemeier’s wide readership, and I did enjoy the sibling story, as well as the atmosphere created by Braden Lamb’s wonderful colours. But I hope readers will be aware of the issues that have been raised regarding this story, and also seek out own voices perspectives.


Also by Raina Telgemeier:



Speculative Fiction

ECCC Fiction Preview

It’s Tuesday, and normally I would have a new fiction review for you, but I spent my weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, and consequently didn’t get much reading done. But! ECCC included an awesome set of panels called the Writer’s Block, and as a result I got to meet a bunch of great science fiction and fantasy authors, and add a whole bunch of recent or upcoming titles to my TBR pile. Here are some of the books I’m excited about, starting with those that are already out, and progressing to those that are being released in the coming weeks or months:

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas (03/01/16) – Angry Robot Books

Cover image for The United States of Japan by Peter TieryasI’ve read at least a couple of alternative history novels that posit Germany winning World War II, and I know that there are way more out there. Tieryas’ alternate history focuses on the results of a victory by the Japanese Empire, and is partly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle.  Add in some giant mecha and this is basically alternative history meets some of my favourite anime series. Tieryas spoke on the ECCC panel The Science Behind Science Fiction, and he sparked my interest with his discussion of the research that went into ensuring that he honoured the tragedy of “all those who suffered during the events of WWII.”

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel  (04/26/16) – Del Ray

Cover image for Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelI’m trying to read more Canadian fiction this year, and I’m especially interested in Canadian genre fiction,  so I was excited to encounter this novel by French-Canadian linguist Sylvain Neuvel . After accidentally discovering a buried giant mechanical hand while exploring as a child, Rose Parker becomes a cutting-edge physicist focused on unraveling the mystery of her discovery. The novel incorporates a variety of documents, including transcripts that give it a heavy focus on dialogue. I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC, so I hope to review this one soon, as we are only a couple weeks from the release date. Update: Read my full review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato (08/23/2016) – Harper Voyager

Cover image for Breath of Earth by Beth CatoI really enjoyed Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger series, which did a great job of combining magic into steampunk fiction. Her next novel, due out in August, seems to take a similar path, blending magic and alternative history. The US and Japan have banded together into the United Pacific, with their eyes set on a vulnerable China. The protagonist is a powerful geomancer who must hide her powers because she is a woman. But it is 1906, and one of history’s most powerful earthquakes is about to be unleashed, and unscrupulous geomancers are determined to harvest that power for their own ends.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (09/13/16) – Scholastic

Cover image for Ghosts by Raina TelgemeierPopular graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier is known for her autobiographical comics Smile and Sisters, as well as her adaptations of the Babysitters Club books into comic form. Her most recent book, Drama, also drew significantly on elements of her own life. Her forthcoming graphic novel, Ghosts, ventures more purely into fiction, with the story of two sisters who move from Southern California to a coastal town in Northern California because the younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. I was able to snag a preview of the first 23 pages; Ghosts continues to incorporate the sibling relationships Telgemeier writes so well, but will also include elements of magic realism! Update: Read my full review.

The Rift Uprising by Amy S. Foster (10/04/16) – Harper Voyager

The Rift Uprising PreviewA classified experiment has torn open thirteen multiverse portals, called rifts, at locations around the world. The Allied Rift Coalition is formed to police the portals, and this task force includes the creation of enhanced child soldiers, who are implanted with special chips at age seven, and become active Citadels at fourteen. Ryn is one such Citadel, and has been posted at the rift in Battleground, Washington State for three years. Ryn is supposed to be the perfect soldier, but when a young man crosses through the rift and begins asking questions, she finds herself having doubts of her own. Part of what piqued my interest here is the fact that Foster had her teenage children read The Rift Uprising, and also work-shopped it with their AP English class. She didn’t seem to have much patience for YA fiction that doesn’t acknowledge the realities of actual teens, so I am curious to see what kind of novel that has produced. I was able to pick up a preview of the first chapter, but it is hard to tell much from that.

Those are just five of the novels I heard about this weekend, and I saw four of the authors speak at ECCC as well. But enough talk, it’s time to start reading!




Fiction, Graphic Novel, LGBTQIA+, Middle Grade


Cover image for Drama by Raina Telgemeierby Raina Telgemeier

ISBN 978-0-545-32699-5

Callie has loved theatre, especially musicals, since attending a production of Les Miserables as a child. Quickly realizing that she couldn’t sing, Callie gravitated towards the stage crew of her middle school theatre group, where she becomes head of set design for the department’s production of Moon Over Mississippi.  There she struggles to realize her grand visions on a limited budget, particularly her dream of incorporating a spectacular cannon into the show. But the drama department also has plenty of rivalries and personal dramas, including relationships between the performers, and conflicts between the different technical departments. When two cute twin brothers join the show, Callie’s life in the drama department becomes even more of an emotional rollercoaster.

As in real life, Raina Telgemeier’s fictional drama department is a haven for misfits and gay kids, who are welcomed by their peers. Truly reminiscent of the middle school years—even for those of us who didn’t actually go to a middle school—Drama brings to life familiar scenes of friendship and early romances. It is a daring for a middle grade book in that it features a young gay character who is slowly starting his coming out process, figuring out how to tell his friends and family. Telgemeier’s story mirrors the structure of a play, incorporating different acts, and setting an intermission in the middle of the story than allows for a jump cut to the dress rehearsal, moving the story along nicely. Her familiar bright, cartoony style echoes her popular autobiographical comic Smile, as well as her work on the Babysitter’s Club comics.

Callie’s romantic life was a bit overly busy, including two crushes (not an unrealistic number), but also a friend with an unrequited crush on her, and being mistaken for a friend’s girlfriend, after she’s spotted hugging him when he comes out to her. The constant changes in direction in her love life did sometimes threaten to overwhelm the story of the play, but things were on track to work out relatively well, before Telgemeier goes in for one twist too many, and actually ends up undermining a powerful scene. However, Drama remains a thoughtful and sympathetic story that gives middle grade readers credit for being able to deal with subject matter that is often present in their own lives but absent from fiction intended for them.


Also by Raina Telgemeier:

Cover image for Sisters by Raina TelgemeierSisters

Graphic Novel, Memoir, Young Adult


Cover image for Sisters by Raina Telgemeierby Raina Telgemeier

ISBN 978-0-545-54059-9

Three weeks. Two sisters. One car.”

In a follow up to her popular autobiographical comic, Smile, Raina Telgemeier returns with Sisters, which centers on a three week road trip to Colorado for a family reunion. Raina is trapped in the car with her younger sister, Amara, the much wished-for younger sibling who turned out to be as much trouble as fun. Also along for the ride are Raina’s mother, and her younger brother, Will. In the back seat of their VW van, Raina and Amara squabble and try to entertain themselves on the long car ride, coming to the belated realization that their father hasn’t accompanied them on the trip because their parents aren’t getting along. Although Sisters follows up on Smile, it deals with different subject matter, and can also be read as a standalone.

The road trip to Colorado, told with Telgemeier’s usual bright colours and exaggerated facial expressions, is counterpointed by yellow-toned flashbacks that recount the story of Amara and Raina’s relationship. Beginning from Raina’s wish to be an older sister, to the reality of a cranky baby uninterested in playing with others, Telgemeier conveys a sibling relationship that was never quite what she expected. There are glimpses of common ground in a shared love of drawing, and tense disagreements over Raina’s fear of creepy-crawlies, while Amara loves the outdoors and wants a pet snake. At home, they struggle with sharing everything from their bedroom to the computer to their art supplies. Their teeth-grindingly realistic sibling rivalry will have readers simultaneously cringing and laughing along. And you’ll occasionally want to throttle the lot of them.

Being trapped inside a car provides a uniquely tense setting that will be instantly familiar to anyone who did family road trips or camping trips as child. Telgemeier’s depiction of the family reunion in Colorado Springs is similarly accurate. At the reunion, Raina finds herself awkwardly placed in the family dynamic, not cool enough for her older cousins, but too old to play with the little kids. The adults, of course, are busy arguing. She turns to her sister, only to find that Amara is too hurt by the rejection of the preceding weeks to accept her olive branch. Sisters is the ups and downs of sibling relationships perfectly captured.


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