The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf (middle grade, Harper Collins, August 2020), was on my radar for ages, but this year I've been having a hard time reading (mindless computer game playing dulls my sense more than reading provides an escape), and it took reading for the Cybils Awards for me to get to it (this incentivizing is one reason I like being a Cybils panelist so much). Once I started reading it, it replaced my feelings of nebulous dread and depression with other feelings, lots of them.....(in a good way!), and transported me on a spooky trip to Malaysia.

Here's the first line--“The ghost knew his master was about to die, and he wasn’t exactly unhappy about it.” The witch's blood, which once filled this spirit, a pelesit, with magic, has grown thin, and though he didn't have any ethical qualms about carrying out the malicious errands she used to send him on, he is read for a change. And so when she dies, he sets out to find his new master, who must be someone of the same bloodline, with the same magic within them. That someone is the witch's baby granddaughter, Suraya.

When Suraya becomes aware of the pelesit, she welcomes his friendship, and names him Pink, the sort of name her stuffed animals have. Her mother is cold and distant, and Suraya is a lonely child, and so Pink becomes her inseparable companion as she grows up. Pink, though he's a spirit made for nasty mischief, grows to love Suraya, and would do anything to keep her safe and happy. But when Suraya makes friends with another girl, Jing, and finds happiness outside of Pink, he is consumed by angry jealousy. And since a pelesit has no moral compass, he persecutes Jing. Though Suraya then shuts Pink out of her life, she can't cut all ties with him--they are bound by blood. Finally in desperation she turns to her mother for help, and her mother, for pretty much the first time ever, is there for her.

But when her mother brings in a pawing hantu, a man who can capture spirits, Suraya can't go through with consigning Pink to his custody. And her instincts are sound in this--he is not collecting spirits for altruistic reasons. Suraya and Jing, and Pink, agree to find their way back to the place where Pink was created by the witch, and lay him to peaceful rest. The pawing hantu pursues them, with his own small army of spirits, and in the cemetery where Pink was made, things almost go horribly wrong before all is set right....

My heart ached for Suraya so much. This is a powerful exploration of loneliness and friendship, and though Pink and Suraya's relationship is toxic in many ways, and Pink's jealousy almost spoils it entirely, there is still genuine love between them. Likewise, though Suraya and her mother have a terrible relationship, there's still enough of a bond between them that there's hope they will move forward with love. And Jing is simply a great friend, with nothing toxic about her at all!

People and places, ghosts and graveyards, all become vividly real. It's not a comfort read, but it is a gripping and immersive one, and middle school kids, with all the angst of that age group, will find much to relate too.


  1. This sounds like a unique story. I have a friend who will love this one, although it isn't really to my taste. Thanks for telling me about it.

  2. This book blew me away - gripping and immersive indeed. A favourite of 2020, I think!


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