Young Adult Education

A Haunting Graphic Novel: ‘Ghost World' by Daniel Clowes

I’m not totally sure if Ghost World is YA or not, but the cool thing about genres is that they’re basically meaningless. Just as it would be impossible for any of us to describe ourselves with one word, it’s silly to expect a book to conform exactly to rigid specifications. Ghost World is a lot of things–a graphic novel, a dark comedy–but it’s about teenage girls, so I think it qualifies as a young adult book. Also, I’m driving this bus, so I’m making the rules (this column is the bus in that metaphor, but don’t worry. I promise I’m a really cool bus driver who won’t make you listen to conservative talk radio stations, like some of the bus drivers did when I was in college).

I have a special connection to all the books I write about in Young Adult Education, but that’s especially true of Ghost World. It was the first full-length graphic novel I read, back when I thought comics were only about superheroes and evil villains (nothing against those kinds of comics, but there’s definitely a lot more out there). Ghost World opened me up to a whole new world of storytelling. There aren’t a ton of graphic novels about teenage girls, so this one stood out, and I read it countless times. In high school, several people told me I reminded them of Enid. This isn’t really all that flattering, but I was nonetheless pleased by it. I’m a bit of a narcissist, so if someone was like, “You know who you remind me of? Aileen Wuornos as played by Charlize Theron in the movie Monster,” I would just be like, “Oh, you’re thinking of me? So sweet.” Naturally I dressed up as Enid for Halloween one year (a grand total of one person recognized my costume) and somehow managed to find the exact dinosaur shirt Enid wears in the movie. It was a moment of thrift store magic I’ve yet to recreate, and it’s yet another reason I feel like Ghost World and I have a mystical connection.


The book follows best friends Enid and Rebecca, two recent high school graduates spending a boring summer in their generic town. It’s hard to describe the plot of Ghost World. Lots of things happen–Enid grapples with the thought of college, her dad’s dating life, her feelings for her friend Josh and the fact that she and Rebecca are growing apart–but what sticks with me is the mood of the book. With its sweetly melancholic blue color scheme, Ghost World evokes all the feelings that come along with growing up. Even as Enid looks forward to a fresh start and a new future–she talks about wanting to take a bus to a random city and become a different person–she’s still pulled back by the nostalgic anchor of childhood. One of the most touching scenes is when Enid falls asleep listening to one of the records she loved as a kid.

There’s a lot to say about Ghost World, and not enough space to say it all. Enid Coleslaw remains one of the best characters I’ve ever encountered because she seems like a real person. She’s not a hero or a role model; she’s flawed and confused. She’s not a bad person, but she does bad things. She makes mistakes, alienates people and cries a lot. But she’s also funny, smart and strong. When the book ends, I don’t for a second worry about Enid. I know she’ll be okay, wherever she ends up.

Some Highlights:

Ghost World is also a movie. It’s very different from the book while being equally awesome in its own way–probably because Daniel Clowes wrote the screenplay. Starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson (back when she could still play Pretty Teenage Girls instead of Sexy Adult Women), it manages to be just as hilarious and heart-wrenching as the book.

-The book depicts losing a friendship in a heartfelt, real way. I think a friend breakup can sometimes be more traumatic than a romantic breakup. We usually expect our friendships to last forever and we buy the charm bracelets to prove it. But people change as they grow up, and even the best friendships don’t always stay the same.

-If you want to know more about Daniel Clowes, check out this great interview he did with Rookie.

-Daniel Clowes also wrote David Boring, Ice Haven, Wilson and a lot of other great graphic novels.

Have you read Ghost World or watched the movie? What’s your favorite graphic novel? Have you read any other great graphic novels about teenage girls? Let me know in the comments! As always, I love to hear your suggestions for the books you’d like to see in Young Adult Education. E-mail me at youngadulteducation@gmail.com, find me on Twitter @KerryAnn or leave a comment.

Images via Open Library and EW.com

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