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Review | The Girl and the Ghost (Hanna Alkaf)

Alongside the fantastical, Hanna weaves in a story of friendship, family and wanting to fit in – the stuff of good middle-grade books

Logline

A lonely girl inherits a pelesit from her grandmother and makes it her friend with dire consequences as she gets older.

 

Back of Book

I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

 

Read it because

One of my favourite parts in the book is when Jing, the Star Wars mad character asks a ghost perched on a tree, what does he miss more – nasi lemak or roti canai? And there you have it. There’s so much to love in just that one instance. And this is what makes Hanna’s writing so damn delightful to read, because we are all this precocious mix of western pop culture and cerita tok nenek, where hantu beliefs just as much as Jedis are a part of our makeup. Huh. It never occurred to me until writing this how Yoda kinda resembles a toyol.

But moving on.

Meet Pink, a pelesit whose master just died. It finds her next of kin choosing Suraya, the granddaughter instead of her mother. When it finally reveals itself to her, as most small children who accepts things unconditionally, Suraya does not bat an eyelid. Instead she makes the pelesit a friend. *Quick crash course, a pelesit is a generational ghost or spirit made by dark magic which you can inherit. You can use it to do things – everything from sending curses to scaring the bejesus out of thine enemies. It can take the form of an unassuming grasshopper. When I was small, I was told to leave these green insects well alone. Pink watches Suraya grow and gets angry when she is bullied and hurt when she is friendless. It becomes her bodyguard, avenging angel, and bff all rolled into one. When Jing, a new girl arrives and becomes Suraya’s first real friend Pink has to grapple with feelings of jealousy and being left out because at the end of the day it is not human and can’t do human-things. Things escalate until finally the three of them are forced on a road-trip to find out Pink’s true origins.

 Alongside the fantastical (and some creepy malarkey) Hanna weaves in a story of friendship, family and wanting to fit in – the stuff of good middle-grade books. After all, wounds as you are just entering puberty cuts deep. It’s a bewildering time when most go through a loss of innocence and realise that adults don’t have it all together, and that the world can be a harsh place. This book captures all the yearning and cruelty and simple joys of childhood beautifully.

 

Is this really for me?

“I was a kid who liked creepy things, who grew up to be an adult who liked creepy things,” says Hanna during our interview. And this book goes to dark places, it does not sanitise things. If you are buying this for a kid, there are nightmarish things in here. If you are an adult, you can take itlah.

 

A Prose Taster

“By the time Suraya was five years old. She should have broken various bones in her body at least twelve different times, been poisoned twice, and possibly have actually died on seven separate occasions. It was harder work than the ghost had ever done in his life, watching and worrying over a young master-to-be who never seemed to think about her own safety and never, ever stopped moving.”

 

In a nutshell

I was a kid who loved creepy things too. I like that this book puts forward our supernatural world in a creative way (more books like this please) and that it never loses sight of the core story. The friendships in this book are so joyful at times that you can’t help remembering pinky promises and friendship bracelets with the first best friend you made but, on the flip side the pain and sadness felt also harkens to those times when you tasted the first bitter pill of betrayal or horror or love unreturned. Some parts are fun, some dorky, some creeeeepy and some are moving in the earnestness of feelings expressed. Hanna does it again. Just as you’re chuckling over the shenanigans of a makcik kubur, she would suddenly worm some ‘feels’ in there. She definitely knows how to follow a good story down the rabbit hole. And her next book? A tudung-wearing word nerd goes to a championship scrabble tournament in Johor and has to solve a mystery. See? SOLD.

 

Honey Ahmad (Ipoh mari) is a scriptwriter, foodie and book nerd that’s constantly trying to marshal her thoughts into some semblance of order.  She has a book podcast called Two Book Nerds Talking (on Spotify, iTunes, Spreaker etc.)

Listen to the lively interview with Hanna here:

 

 

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