by Raina Telgemeier
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.
It’s been a long time, if not the first time, since I’ve read a book that deals with the topic of death without being too melodramatic or horrific, and instead maintains a harmonious balance of emotions.
The Day of the Dead celebration just happens to coincide with Catrina and her family’s move to a new town, and parallels Maya’s own fears of dying, which, for anyone living with the devastating illness of cystic fibrosis, is understandable. But together, she and her sister learn that death, while little understood, is a part of life. By joining together in the festivities, by remembering those who have passed before us and maintaining relationships with them, by accepting feelings of grief: it expands into our way of life, culture, and even our celebrations.
I commend Telgemeier for Ghosts; not only is the illustration beautiful, she portrays the culture without exotifiying it, or as is all too common, making it feel like lecture.
Not since The Bridge to Terabithia has a book succeeded in bridging the topic of death in a kid’s world, and when I close the book I’m left feeling sad, inspired, and accepting of all my emotions.