Book Review: The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf – An Unapologetically Malaysian, Spooky, and Emotional Story about Friendship, Loneliness, and Jealousy

Blurb:

I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.

If anyone you know ever feels hesitant to read middle-grade books, then do them a favour: introduce them to The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. From her young-adult debut, The Weight of Our Sky, about a Malay teen searching for her mother during the 1969 race riots that took place in Malaysia, Hanna’s middle-grade debut is, quite frankly, a book exceeds words. By that, I mean that when I finished this back in August, I was speechless. By that, I also mean that how I feel about this book, my utmost love and adoration and awe for it, cannot be expressed in mere words. But, for the sake of this review and because I want nothing more than for all of you to read it, I hope I can do the beauty of this book some justice.

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Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Hanna Alkaf, Author of The Girl and the Ghost; On Writing Friendship, Malaysian Childhoods, & Being True to Your Stories

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The stars are bright in the sky tonight as you lie down on the grass, the Pond around you restful and serene. It’s been a long day, and you nearly fall asleep in the lull of the surrounding cricketsong, but just as you begin to drift off, the ground beneath you moves with a faint tremor.

And then—a smell. It is light and sweet, a whisper of fragrance blooming against the fresh grass.

An illustration of Hanna Alkaf as a teal elephant, wearing glasses and wearing a hijab.From the nearby bushes emerges Sprout, their little sapling glowing faintly verdant, and a familiar friend that you’ve seen before: it’s Hanna the elephant!

Hanna raises her trunk in a cheerful greeting, and you wave hello back. You remember Hanna from when she visited the Pond for her YA historical novel The Weight of Our Sky, and she’s back! Her hijab looks a little different from last time too, and you can’t help but admire the lovely streaks of green that now adorn the headscarf.

Sprout hops with excitement, “Hanna is here to talk about her new book, friend! Both Xiaolong and I have read it already, and we both really love it! Would you like to join us?”

You begin to nod yes, but then remember the sweet smell from before. You ask Sprout if they smell it too, and their eyes light up. “Oh yes! I picked some frangipani along the way here!” They hold up a handful of small, white flowers. “Did you know, friend, that frangipanis are associated with spirits and ghosts in Malaysia? Hanna’s new book is all about Malaysian spirits too!

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You smile as you sit down with Sprout and Hanna: ghosts are certainly fitting for a nighttime story!

It’s no secret that we here at the Pond absolutely adore Hanna’s stories, and her most recent middle-grade fantasy The Girl and the Ghost definitely lived up to all my expectations and more! I absolutely devoured the book, and friend, I cannot express how positively heartwarming to see my own Malaysian childhood and upbringing reflected in the pages of Suraya’s story. It felt like coming home.

So if you’re in the mood for a creepy, lushly-written tale about friendship and growing up set in a tiny kampung where a girl encounters an inherited ghost that changes her life, this is absolutely the book for you. We’re so honored today to have Hanna here at the Pond to talk about her story and her craft, and what it means to be true to who you’re writing for.

But before that, let me formally tell you what the book is all about too!

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Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – A Brilliant Asian Fantasy That Explores Trauma, Loss & Oppressive Systems [An Analysis?]

Text: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan.

Blurb:

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

CW’s review:

Girls of Paper and Fire was on everyone’s most anticipated book releases in 2018, and the book is now an effortless favourite among many readers – with good reason. Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire is a young-adult fantasy, set in Ikhara, a world inspired by Malaysian culture. It follows Lei, a girl of the lowest caste who is taken from her home to become a Paper Girl: one of eight girls chosen to serve the King. Despite the opulence and privileges afforded to Paper Girls, Lei refuses to accept the injustices enacted by the Demon King and refuses that her future as Paper Girl is her ultimate fate. Thus, she does the unthinkable: she falls in love. This is a provocative, heavy, emotional, and brilliant story about trauma, autonomy, assault, and oppression.

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