Book Review: The Girl and the Ghost

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The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf is a beautifully crafted and elegantly written fantasy novel. Inspired by Malaysian folklore, the novel follows a young girl who inherits a dark spirit from her grandmother. It is written in an accessible way for younger readers, but the lyrical prose and subtle exploration of poignant social issues makes it a brilliant read for any age. 

“The most beautiful blooms come from the darkest soil.”

I won’t lie, I initially bought The Girl and the Ghost because of the beautiful cover art by Anastasia Suvarova. It also sounded like an interesting concept and a fun way to learn about elements of Malaysian folklore. A young girl, Suraya, is bound to a pelesit — a mythological dark spirit — after her grandmother dies. To his initial dismay, Suraya names her demon “Pink” and the two grow closer as Suraya ages. However, when Suraya starts making human friends, Pink’s jealousy threatens to unleash the sinister darkness within him. 

The novel is first and foremost an exploration of friendship, family and jealousy. It is impossible not to love the relationship between Suraya and Pink, and how their friendship is affected by Suraya’s newfound friend, Jing. Hanna Alkaf explores several different relationships within the book, from first friendship to mother-daughter relations and intergenerational trauma. There are some heavy topics and discussions within The Girl and the Ghost, but they are always expressed in an accessible and relatable way without straying towards patronising. I always love the exploration of grandmother-mother-daughter dynamics, which feature heavily, and I loved the gradual development of these familial relationships through the course of the novel. 

Like many TV programmes aimed towards older children, there are two layers of humour in The Girl and the Ghost. There is childish humour geared towards the younger audience, but there are a lot of musings and asides that feel as though they were made for adults — in particular, the musings of Pink, who is more of an older guardian figure perpetually frustrated at Suraya for being a curious child. This humour, combined with the beautiful, lyrical writing style makes the novel a joy to read. It is absolutely heartwarming. 

“When he offered her the seed of friendship, loneliness provided a soul so fertile that she buried it deep in her heart and let it grow and grow until it filled her and patched over the broken bits and made her whole.”

As the novel is inspired by Malaysian folklore, Hanna Alkaf introduces a whole host of mythological and fantastical creatures that I previously knew nothing about and thoroughly enjoyed learning about. Information about these creatures is effortlessly weaved into the novel; there is never any information dumping, yet I still learned a lot, and it is perfect for anyone interested in the mythology of different cultures. 

The Girl and the Ghost was a really incredible read and somehow one of the cutest and darkest middle-grade books I have ever read. I cannot recommend it enough if you enjoy light-hearted, cosy mysteries with fantasy and folklore. 

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