Ghost Book by Remy Lai
Henry Holt & Company (August 15, 2023)
320 pages; $22.99 hardcover; $14.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Remy Lai studied fine arts, with a major in painting and drawing. She was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, where she writes and draws stories for kids with her two dogs by her side. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Pie in the Sky, Fly on the Wall, and Pawcasso. Her newest graphic novel is Ghost Book, a haunting tale based on Chinese mythology and a child fated to see ghosts.
In Ghost Book, July Chen, whose mother died in childbirth, sees ghosts. She not only sees ghosts, but she can summon them, and sometimes even converse with them. But this gets her into a lot of trouble, and her dad insists ghosts don’t exist. So July is forced to pretend they don’t exist. Which is incredibly difficult now as it’s Hungry Ghost month, when the Gates of the Underworld open and dangerous ghosts run amok in the living world. When July saves a boy ghost from being devoured by a Hungry Ghost, he becomes her first ever friend. Except William is not a ghost. He’s a wandering soul wavering between life and death, tethered to his living body by a red thread. As they embark on an journey to return William to his body, they unearth a ghastly truth — the two children have always been connected, and for William to live, July must die.
This is a well-balanced book. The art is stylized towards a YA audience, and reads as fun and cozy, but the plot is very serious. The soft art makes the sacrificial elements of the plot palatable and safe for younger readers, but those very elements will appeal to older readers, even many adult readers. This is a finely crafted plot that taps not only into myth and folklore, but also children’s paranoias and terrors, such as rumors of haunted buildings and school ghosts. Lai makes both these elements very real, but in a way that is palatable for younger readers. Lai also taps into young adult perspectives of the world, such as being ignored and unheard, that serve to help the reader engage with this book as well.
Overall, Ghost Book is a solid YA graphic novel. The art supports the plot by softening some of the terror for the target audience; the plot, especially the elements of death and sacrifice, are enough to thrill even adult readers. Remy Lai has crafted a tight plot that rivals similar YA journeys into the underworld, such as Spirited Away or Coco, but with dark folkloric elements that are quite scary. Strongly recommended for any readers interested in horror graphic novels, especially YA ghost stories and adventures into the land of the dead.