We all have our secret hopes and fears, those things we hide from even our closest family and friends. And those hopes and fears are bigger, bolder, and more dramatic when we’re adolescents. Sometimes they seem to take on a life of their own.

That couldn’t be more true for sisters Cat and Maya in Ghosts, the latest graphic novel from award winning author Raina Telgemeier. Cat longs for a normal, uninterrupted life, free to hang out with her friends and not have to worry about Maya. She does worry, though, anxiously watching over her younger sibling and shying away from engaging life. Maya, terminally ill with cystic fibrosis, has her own cherished dreams and silent misgivings. But unlike Cat, she chooses to embrace life, throwing herself heedlessly forward, sometimes to her own detriment.

The two sisters get a chance to face their fears and wishes in a very real way when their family moves to the little Northern California town of Bahia de la Luna. The townsfolk here celebrate the Day of the Dead in a big way, with the ghosts of their ancestors showing up to party with them! Cat must suddenly face her worst fear come to life – the dead – and the knowledge that her sister will someday be among them.

Maya is surprised by the opportunity for her deepest wish to be realized – to talk to someone who can tell her what it’s like to die. But circumstances get complicated when Maya has a bad breathing spell before the festival. The two sisters will have to work together to overcome fear and make dreams come true.

This book approaches a difficult topic with warmth and hope. The story glows with moments of humor, poignancy, and compassion. The artwork illuminates those occasions with its vibrant, accessible style. At one point, local boy Carlos is leading the sisters up a hill to the nearby abandoned mission, with the hope of encountering a ghost. Carlos, assessing the windy weather, declares, “This is great ghost-chasing weather!” Maya’s big eyes and huge, happy smile are comical next to Cat’s downturned look of concern and misery. Colorist Braden Lamb infuses the moment with the perfect balance of spooky darks and muted but cheerful brights. The girls come to life through these expressive drawings, as their hope, fear, joy, sorrow, courage, and love are vividly and skillfully displayed.

This is a truly brilliant book. The story leaves us wishing that we could know these sisters in real life. It inspires us to dig deep and follow their example, finding within ourselves the strength to face our fears and pursue our hopes – together.

-Written by Kate Jordan, Metropolitan State University of Denver student