If you encountered a ghost on your shortcut to school, what would you do? Scream? Run? Convince yourself you imagined it? Not in Spectreville! In fact, as the daughter of paranormal investigators, Sophia Campos is not only used to ghosts, she’s eager to start investigating hauntings herself. Since a mysterious paranormal event led to her parents’ divorce, Sophia has been living with her dad while her brother, Felix, lives with their mom. When Sophia meets Whitney, a ghost with no memory of her death who haunts a local bridge, Sophia decides to solve her murder. To do that, Sophia must team up with Felix and her old crush Jake, which creates a love triangle when Sophia begins to develop feelings for Whitney.
Ghost Friends Forever, vol 1 was released under Papercutz CHARMZ imprint, which the publisher describes as targeting tween and teen girls. The age range is listed as 10+, which feels appropriate. Sophia and Felix are 15 and 14, respectively, yet they often act younger than that. Their thoughts and actions, as well as the book’s romantic elements, feel right at home with a teen/tween audience. Ghost Friends Forever is well-suited to readers who are just developing an interest in character romance, where the affection never goes beyond a kiss. There is little content-wise that would raise a flag for the recommended age group; Sophia’s mother says “dammit” once, and the story and circumstances of Whitney’s murder come across as a bit darker than the rest of the story. However, there are enough other plot elements working within this story that the murder often takes a backseat.
Ghost Friends Forever is one of those great comics where the images and text work together so well that it’s tough to talk about one without the other. For example, the text in this book is almost exclusively character thoughts or dialogue. I’ve become accustomed to narration boxes of text in many other comics I read, yet I hardly noticed their absence here, nor did I miss them. The images and speech/thought bubbles did an excellent job of conveying everything in the story. Writer Monica Gallagher captures character speech well, and all of the dialogue is natural sounding. Though a few elements of the story did feel weirdly juxtaposed (murder alongside sweet teen romance), I found the overall plot to be enjoyable, and the ending allows the book to work as either a stand-alone or the start of a series. The book is marked “volume 1,” suggesting there will be more to follow, but the last panel also reads “end,” rather than presenting a blatant “to be continued” scenario, so readers can stop here easily if they choose. A few plot points were left open or ambiguous, and readers dying to learn every detail, or those who gobble up graphic novels and character-driven stories, will be seeking out the sequel.
Kata Kane’s art isn’t overly detailed, and that works well for this story; it focuses on the most important parts of each panel, without filler, which allows younger readers to focus on the story’s progression without getting bogged down. Character facial expressions often play a crucial role in setting the mood and scene, and they are used to great effect. I truly enjoyed the depictions of characters overall; there are a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds shown, even in background characters, and I liked that. The art style is rather cute, with occasional panels of small (chibi) characters, fitting well with a story targeted to a tween and young teen audience. Matt Herms’s colors work well with Kane’s art, setting the tone for each scene with how light or dark the color palette is.
Representation is a crucial element for me when it comes to the books I choose, both as a reader and as a librarian, and Ghost Friends Forever does not disappoint in that category. In addition to the diverse depictions of all characters throughout, Sophia and Felix are biracial (White/Hispanic), but their background is never treated as a big deal, which I liked. Characters’ sexualities are also treated as normal; Sophia’s previous crush on Jake and her realization that she likes Whitney are treated the same. Felix expresses some concern over Sophia’s feelings for Whitney, but they are focused more on the fact that Whitney is a ghost than that she is a girl. Ghosts provide an important way for characters to address acceptance, and Sophia argues that even if ghosts seem “transparent,” that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have feelings. The art, presence of a take-charge female character, and young romance mixed with coming-of-age themes make Ghost Friends Forever a great read-alike for anyone who enjoys Raina Telgemeier, Faith Erin Hicks, and Lumberjanes. The story’s few minor flaws did little to detract from my overall enjoyment, and I would happily recommend this book to any tween or teen in my library.
Ghost Friends Forever, vol 1
by Monica Gallagher
Art by Kata Kane
Publisher Age Rating: 10+