Monday, February 22, 2021

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf

Alkaf's new middle reader is a contemporary story based on Malaysian folklore.  Suraya is a lonely child but she has one true friend, an evil spirit, whom she calls Pink.  Born through witchcraft from the blood of a dead baby, Pink is bound to Suraya and Suraya (lacking any other friend) is bound to Pink.  This mutual need creates an uneasy symbiotic relationship.

But one day, Suraya makes a real friend with a girl at school named Jing who loves books and Star Wars and offers a bit of normalcy in her life that Suraya has lacked.  And Pink, who ought to be limitless in his power, finds he can't compete and unleashes a terrible vengeance.  Terrorized by her former friend, Suraya is forced to find help and share her secret.  Even with Jing's help, defeating a spirit will require ingenuity and great effort and the two girls sneak out and search for Pink's origins so they can return him from whence he came.

The clever merging of contemporary Malaysian culture and Malay folklore gives this book a unique feel. The local color, however, does not distract from a story to which young readers will relate (tackling meeting parental expectations, bullying at school, and the pressures of conforming to societal expectations).  The story in the end gets a bit muddled and felt rushed, but Alkaf writes well and the story and its two resourceful heroines were engrossing and fun to read.

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