Young Adult EducationA Haunting Graphic Novel: ‘Ghost World' by Daniel ClowesKerry Winfrey

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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  1. Ghost World is one my favorite and first graphic novels to read. I can’t recall reading a lot of titles about teen girls but I really like Gabrielle Bell and Jessica Abel. I think their characters are college age and female…Persepolis is also a favorite!

  2. I own the movie, I watch it whenever I feel like watching a movie. Its one of my favorite movies and every time I watch it I feel better when I’m in a bad mood. I’m also gonna buy the graphic novel. Enid is one of my favorite fictional characters, because she kind of reminds me of myself, except she’s cooler and does things I would want to do but don’t have the balls to do, like I don’t think I could leave on a bus that going to the unknown I’d love to but I wouldn’t actually do it.

  3. I have read and seen the movie Ghost World. I read it at a weird age where I was also trying to figure out who and what I wanted to be. Seeing it on the site this morning made my heart happy :)

  4. im obsessed with the graphic novel AND the movie. so much so that i have a figurine of Enid on my desk at work (nobody gets it at all) so good!

  5. I took a class last semester on graphic novels. For my final paper, I compared the experiences in discovering yourself between the protagonists of Ghost World, La Perdida by Jessica Abel, and Solanin by Inio Asano. They’re all excellent, if you haven’t read the other two I definitely recommend checking them out.

  6. the only thing i remember from the movie is being totally grossed out by…well…i don’t want to spoil it for anyone…so nevermind. haha.

  7. Persepolis is great so far. I’m still reading it, but I have seen the movie and it was good. I have a question regarding Steve Buscemi’s character from the Ghost World movie. Does he play as big a role in the graphic novel as he does in the movie? I kind of felt like Enid and Rebecca’s drifting apart was a bit overshadowed by Enid’s relationship/friendship/whatever with that character.

    • Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie is kind of made up of a couple different characters from the book, so the book’s much more about Enid and Rebecca.

      Kerry Winfrey | 8/12/2012 10:08 am
  8. Blankets by Craig Thompson! I check it out from the library once every two years (I have no idea why I don’t OWN this book already). His other book, Habibi, is just as great!

    • Blankets is a GREAT one, Cristal! I love Craig Thompson!

      Kerry Winfrey | 8/12/2012 05:08 am
  9. Love love love it! It was my first graphic novel as well. So jealous that you found Enid’s shirt! I hope you still have it. :-)

    • I don’t think I can ever get rid of it! It’s just too weird.

      Kerry Winfrey | 8/12/2012 05:08 am
  10. I have both the movie and the book. I love Ghost World!

  11. Persepolis The Story of a Childhood ~ excellent graphic novel of a teenage girl growing during the Islamic revolution.

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Jennifer! I keep meaning to re-read Persepolis…I technically read it once, but it was in French, for a French course in college, and I feel like with my limited understanding of the language I might not have gotten the full experience, ha.

      Kerry Winfrey | 8/12/2012 05:08 am
  12. I’ve never read it or seen it but I am super interested now! Thanks :D