Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier


Goodreads: Ghosts
Series:  None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


Cat and her family are moving so her younger sister Maya can be by the sea for her cystic fibrosis.  But then a neighbor tells them ghosts Bahía de la Luna is full of ghosts.  Cat is afraid, but Maya desperately wants to talk t them.  Can Cat find a way to be brave for Maya?


Ghosts tells the moving story of two sisters trying to find the courage to live and to die.  While Cat worries about meeting an actual ghost, Maya longs to speak to them.  She has to know what will happen when she dies–and what will happen to her sister.  The two struggle to resolve their fears while still maintaining their friendship.  But they may find their answers in a very unlikely place–  Día de los Muertos.

Raina Telgemeier writes in the back of the book that she was inspired by celebrating Día de los Muertos in San Francisco.  Her experience of the celebration undoubtedly does not match the experience of many–what happens in San Francisco in a street festival does not represent the full spectrum of ceremonies and celebrations that might be performed to honor the dead.  The sisters in this book are interested in remembering those who have gone before.  Their mother shares memories of their grandmother and the girls set up an altar for her.  However, most of the plot focuses the girls’ individuals goals, presumably because this provides more action than setting up an altar does.  Maya wants to ask a ghost about what it means to die, while Cat wants to find the courage to help her sister try.  The celebration in this book is a literal party where the living dance and speak with the dead.  It’s not surprising that some reviewers have found this representation problematic, though I do doubt that middle school readers will believe that this is what Día de los Muertos actually looks like, as some criticism has suggested.  Preteens do generally know that the living and the dead are not partying together every year.

I imagine that the representation of Día de los Muertos here is supposed to show what the day might look like to two kids who have not grown up with the tradition, but are now being introduced to their heritage.  They might very well connect it to Halloween, a tradition with which they are familiar, and they might very well see a “celebration of the dead” as a literal celebration.  And a joyful celebration does not have to exclude some solemnity or reverence.  In short, I do not think Telgemeier was attempting to represent Día de los Muertos in all its forms, but instead was trying to imagine what the significance of such a day might look like to two children who are faced with the possibility of one of their own deaths.

The story in this regard is incredibly poignant.  Telgemeier captures sisterhood perfectly, matching the cheerful Maya with the more reserved Cat, and exploring all the nuances of their love as they explore together, tease each other, and argue with each other.  Their relationship is beautiful and that makes the reality of Maya’s situation really resonate with the readers–Maya is truly concerned about how Cat will cope if and when she dies.  She is also, of course, concerned about herself.

In this way, the book really works.  It asks questions about how to live and how to die, and matches it with a day meant to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before, and remind people that their loved ones are still there, even in death.  Perhaps it will even inspire children to learn more about Día de los Muertos and how it is celebrated.

4 starsKrysta 64

9 thoughts on “Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

  1. Rachel says:

    I read this book a few months ago. I enjoyed it a lot. It certainly pulled at my heart strings and while I don’t think everything in the book (especially Day of the Dead) is accurate, I still felt as though it was a good read and the graphic-novel style worked for it.


    • Krysta says:

      I imagine that children will understand Day of the Dead doesn’t involve partying with real ghosts. 😀 Some of the reviews I read seemed really concerned that the youth wouldn’t realize this is fiction… But yes! It’s definitely an emotional read!


      • Rachel says:

        That I get, yeah. But I read some reviews where people were actually complaining about how the custom itself wasn’t correct. I don’t know too much about Day of the Dead, but I remember learning about it in Spanish class a long time ago. Either way, I enjoyed it.


        • Krysta says:

          Yes, I’ve seen similar reviews. However, l think it’s important to consider that not everyone celebrates a holiday in exactly the same way. Even with Christmas, for example, some people go to church and some people don’t. Some people open the gifts the night before and some people don’t. Some people leave cookies out for Santa and other people refuse to lie to their children and tell them Santa exists. I couldn’t really read a book and say that the portrayal of the holiday was “wrong” just because it didn’t match my idea of how the holiday should be celebrated. Even if someone would argue that it’s a Christian holiday and “should” be portrayed as focused on the birth of Christ, I known non-Christians who celebrate Christmas. So that depiction in a book wouldn’t be inaccurate.

          I understand that the criticisms come from the fact that Telgemeier was inspired by a street festival for Day of the Dead and some think she should have portrayed the holiday with more solemnity. I think, though, that she does. The children do make an altar for their grandmother. The fact that they also celebrate with a party and music doesn’t erase the solemnity of the holiday, I think. I think joy and solemnity can go together.


          • Rachel says:

            You bring up excellent points and I totally agree with you. I think sometimes people try to find something to nit-pick. When it comes to things like that, I just enjoy the overall story. The message came in loud and clear to me and I felt as though it was a great one.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Jen says:

    I have this one on hold at my library. Have been wanting to read it for awhile now and finally getting around to it, it seems like a very interesting read.


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