A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
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"Damn" and variants are used a few times.
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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.
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.
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