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Comic Book / Ghosts (Raina Telgemeier)

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Ghosts is an award-winning 2016 graphic novel written by Raina Telgemeier. Catrina "Cat" Allende-Delmar and her family are moving from sunny southern California to Bahia de la Luna, a northern California town by the sea where the sun shines only sixty-two days a year. The family is hoping that the sea air will benefit her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, but their neighbor Carlos tells them what the town is really known for: ghosts. Maya is eager about the ghosts and wants to meet them but Cat is terrified of them and it only gets worse when Maya's health is in jeopardy after an encounter with the ghosts goes wrong. With Dia de los Muertos approaching, Cat must put aside her fears for not only her sister's sake but also her own. Can the spirits of the dead ease her worries about her sister's mortality and answer Maya's questions about ghosts?

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Ghosts provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Carlos Calaveras.
  • Arc Words: "Just go with it!"
  • Bait-and-Switch: Upon returning home from the Festival, Kat finds Maya passed out, seemingly dead! ...until she comes to, revealing she was simply in a candy coma from eating all of Cat's candy.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Cat is very protective of Maya. It's partly deconstructed when not only does it border on overprotective, but she associates Maya's breathing attack with Carlos and the ghosts and wrongfully alienates both.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On the bitter side, Maya's Cystic Fibrosis will eventually grow worse, and it's left ambiguous if her breathing tube is permanent or not. On the sweet side, however, Cat has overcome her fear of ghosts and Maya befriends one. Cat and Carlos are on much better terms now. Also, while they didn't get to meet their Abuela's ghost this year, the girls are surprised to find a mysterious feast of traditional Mexican food waiting for them in the dining room.
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  • Character Development: Cat goes from being anxious and afraid of ghosts to coming to terms with them.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Not only are there no punches being pulled with how serious Maya's illness is and how Cystic Fibrosis only causes her lungs to get worse as she gets older but Cat's anxiety over her sister's health can really hit hard for anyone who has a sibling that has been sick or has long term health problems.
  • Food Porn: The mysterious feast of Mexican food that appears in the dining room at the end does look quite awesome.
  • Hidden Depths: Although she's a very cheery and optimistic child, Maya does have a grasp on her mortality that borders on sobering.
  • Meaningful Name: Cat's name, Catrina, and Carlos's surname, Calaveras, is derived from La Calavera Catrina who is a notable figure in Dia de los Muertos.
  • Mood Whiplash: One minute, Maya is having the time of her life surrounded by the friendly ghosts. But then she drops her soda, and the breaking glass causes a panic among the ghosts that leads to her breathing attack.
  • Nice Guy: Carlos genuinely cares about both Cat and Maya, feeling especially guilty when the encounter on the ghost tour goes wrong and Maya gets sick.
  • No Antagonist: The main conflict of the story is Cat learning how to let go of her fears for both her sake and Maya's.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Catrina is mainly referred to as Cat.
  • The Pollyanna: Maya has quite an abundance of energy and optimism about her.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Raina Telgemeier points out that part of the book's theme is about breathing. Although Cat can breath normally when compared to Maya or the Ghosts, her anxiety makes it hard for her to embrace life as is.
  • Shown Their Work: There's commentary showing all the research that went into creating this story.
  • The Topic of Cancer: The book does not shy away from the fact that Cystic Fibrosis has no cure, and Maya's lungs will grow worse as she grows older.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Maya calls out Cat on letting her fears get the better of her. For context, Maya wants to go back to the Mission and visit the ghost, but her Cystic Fibrosis keeps her from doing so. Cat is healthy and more than capable of returning there, but is letting her fear in ghosts stop her from going, even when it's clear that the ghosts didn't mean to cause Maya's breathing attack.
    • There's also Cat denying the existence of Maya or that she even has a sister to her new friends. And Maya winds up finding out about it the hard way...
  • Winds Are Ghosts: Played with. The ghosts aren't the wind, but the wind is part of what gives them strength to exist in the physical world. Ghosts can't breathe on their own, so they often rely on the wind to help "breathe" for them.
  • Would Rather Suffer: Played realistically. When Cat exclaims she'd rather die than move to the nearly sunless Bahia de la Luna, her parents glare at her, and Maya looks worried that her sister would say this.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Maya's breathing attack while with the ghosts does not give Cat a good first impression of ghosts and even exacerbates her fear of them.
  • "You!" Exclamation: Cat has this reaction to Carlos the second time she sees him. This precedes Maya giving a happier variation of this trope.


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