1.) Beautiful prose- This was my first time experiencing Hanna Alkaf’s writing. By the end of the prologue, I felt head to toe immersed in the story Alkaf was spinning. There is a richness to each sentence that puts you right there with Pink and Suraya. Alkaf is a master of precise dialogue and syntax that cuts to the core of the matter and can steal your breath away in bittersweet truths.
2.) Complexity of friendship- When we first meet them, both Pink and Suraya are lonely. Pink, because his prior master cared little for him and used him only for his powers, and Suraya, because she had a hard time fitting in, and her mom put up walls around her heart that Suraya couldn’t get around. The initial friendship between Pink and Suraya is beautiful. They become closer and closer over the years, but Pink has a darkness to him that he can’t, or won’t, let go of. When Suraya makes a new friend, Jing, Pink becomes jealous and destructive. But even then, Suraya has a hard time writing him off completely because she knows there is love in him. The explorations of friendship between Pink and Suraya and Jing and Suraya dive into setting boundaries, learning to be vulnerable, knowing when to let go, and trusting when to hold on.
3.) The themes of pain and healing: Suraya and her mom have a difficult relationship. From the hints about Suraya’s grandmother, you can tell some past pain is poisoning the present, but you don’t get the full picture until the end. Suraya and her mom both have to be painfully honest with each other about their strained relationship and figure out a way to heal together. Emotional healing is rarely linear, but you can tell that Suraya and her mom love each other deeply no matter what.
4.) The story is filled with fascinating and creepy creatures- THE GIRL AND THE GHOST is set in Malaysia, and there are all sorts of unique creatures and spirits about. Pink is a primary example as a pelesit, but Suraya also encounters langsuir, toyol, bajang, and more. I didn’t know much about Malaysian folk tales before reading this, and I frequently paused to research and learn about each new-to-me being as it appeared.
5.) The Star Wars jokes- Jing loves Star Wars and consistently makes A+ jokes and references to the franchise throughout.