The Girl and the Ghost

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
The Girl and the Ghost Book Poster Image
Spellbinding story of ghosts, strong girls, and friendship.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers not familiar with Malaysia will learn about Malaysian culture, food, words and phrases, as well as ideas about ghosts and death that existed before Islam came to Malaysia.

Positive Messages

Family relationships and friendships can involve conflict and be complicated, but overall, love should feel good more than it hurts. Treasure your friends that you can count on no matter what. Humor almost always helps. Trauma never heals in silence; you must talk about it and heal from it in order to love and trust and enjoy life again.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Suraya is an unflinchingly brave and good person; she defends, even, kids who bully her. Her ghost, Pink, is an evil, dark spirit, but he learns from Suraya what it feels like to love, and that changes him for the better. Jing Wei is unflappable and funny, the perfect person to help Suraya as she struggles against evil. Suraya and her family are Muslim, and Jing is Chinese Malaysian.  

Violence & Scariness

More scary than violent, Suraya's ghost makes creepy things happen (turns food into maggots or roaches, for example) and in a wounded rage, he haunts Suraya by making her see scary things that aren't there. There's a battle of dark spirits against ghosts near the end that is full of fear-inducing tension. Jing's life is threatened by a man with a knife, and he gives her a small cut from the knife.

Language

"Damn" and variants are used a few times.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hanna Alkaf's The Girl and the Ghost is a fantasy set in Malaysia that explores friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness. Suraya and her ghost, Pink, are close, but Pink is a dark spirit and, against her will, he punishes kids who bully her. And, when she's in middle school, he hurts Suraya's new, and first, good friend, Jing Wei. Suraya attempts to release Pink from their bond, but instead he haunts her maliciously, until a new villain unites them again. This story is more scary than violent, with Pink turning food into maggots and haunting Suraya with terrifying visions, a truly creepy villain, and ghosts and spirits that leave marks when they attack with teeth and hands. "Damn" and its variants are used  a few times.

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What's the story?

Suraya is a toddler when a ghost, a "gift" from the girl's witch grandmother, binds himself to her. He protects her as she grows, but his protection takes a dark turn when he begins to make bad things happen to her bullies. She makes him promise he will not hurt anyone again, but he is an evil spirit and he cannot stop himself. When he becomes jealous of Suraya's new friend Jing Wei, he makes little things happen to hurt Jing, like opening a hole in her pocket so she loses the money she was saving for something special. Suraya ends her friendship with Pink, but as revenge, he visits strange visions and horrible nightmares upon her until she can't take it anymore. She confesses her issues with Pink to her mother, who hires a pawang, someone who can break the bond between Suraya and Pink for good. But Suraya senses something sinister in this pawang, and she reunites with Pink to find out what the pawang is really after. They discover a threat much bigger than their conflict, and soon must face the sacrifices required to keep each other, and the world, safe.

Is it any good?

This unforgettable tale about the rocky friendship between a dark spirit and a brave, kind girl pulls readers through a spine-chilling, funny, and redemptive adventure. Alkaf, a beautiful writer, opens with a delightfully interesting character: a ghost with a dark nature who has no heart, yet feels something stir in the space where his heart would be when he meets spunky little Suraya. Thus begins the remarkable story about the transformative power of love. The author weaves in Malaysian culture so skillfully that readers unfamiliar with Malaysia easily enter and embrace that world.

Any kid who's ever felt excluded or a little bit weird will cheer for Suraya and laugh along with Jing, the triumphant and quirky girl heroes. Though this book aims to scare, it's tame enough for most tweens (very sensitive kids may want to skip this one, though). The cathartic conclusion is a real tear-jerker, so kids whose emotions run just below the surface should keep tissues handy. This is a must-read that hits all the marks for a spooky, tween-friendly, page-turning, emotionally real read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the two main friendships in The Girl and the Ghost. How does Suraya's relationship with Pink differ from her friendship with Jing Wei? Are they similar in any ways? Is Pink capable of loving Suraya? Why or why not?

  • Malaysian culture and foods are weaved in throughout this book. What new things did you learn? Were you confused by anything? If so, how did you work through your confusion?

  • What is the difference between scary and violent? Is one more disturbing to you than another? What were some memorable scary or violent scenes in this book? Why do they stand out to you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love ghost stories and tales with Asian characters

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