Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
Publisher: Lethe Press (January 5, 2008)
Format: Kindle Edition
In high school did you:
-dye your hair an unnatural color (i.e. blue, black, red, pink, etc)?
-believe that the supernatural existed and own a Ouija board, tarot deck, scrying crystal, and/or any other occult paraphernalia?
-have a gay best friend?
If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions then I’m begging you to BUY THIS BOOK. You won’t be disappointed.
Plot: After being kicked out of the house by his parents for revealing that he is gay, a young teen moves in with his aunt in suburban New Jersey. He has a penchant for vintage clothing and all things Goth and soon collects a small group of offbeat friends who share those same interests. They hang out in graveyards, dye their hair fantastic colors, and have spooky candle-lit Ouija board parties. Yet everything around them is still dismally, painfully normal and they wish for some experience to prove that something exists beyond the mundane. When the teen chances upon Josh, a ghost who haunts an abandoned stretch of NJ highway, he wishes that life would just return to normal. In addition to Josh, soon all he sees are ghosts at every turn and the violence of their deaths is frightening and shudder inducing. When Josh begins haunting him, the teen is torn between the attraction he feels for a dead man and the budding relationship he’s forming with a friend’s younger brother. Josh refuses to share him though and his visits become malevolent, forcing the teen to attempt a dangerous exorcism that very well may cost him his life.
Review: If, like me, you were one of those misguided and angsty teens who liked to dye their hair and your wardrobe consisted of thrift store t-shirts along with ripped black Chuck Taylors with lots of safety pins, then this book is for you. Heck, I’ll take it a step further. If you were a disaffected teen just hoping to fit in (and let’s face it, pretty much all teenagers fall into this category unless they’re, like, that one magical teen who didn’t get zits, had fabulous fashion sense, and automatically understood their place in the world) then this book is for you too. Steve Berman’s main character is the quintessential teen. He’s the every man that we can all relate to. He’s nameless and practically faceless in that we never receive an adequate description of him and no matter how close he gets to people, he never quite fits in. Couple that with the fact that he’s gay and that he begins to see ghosts and you get a poor kid that doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a feeling we can all relate to. Steve Berman’s writing is really fluid as well, creating a believable situation involving the Gothic teenage element that doesn’t seem morbid or pathetic. Too often high school angst stories feel schmaltzy or forced but this is spot on. Even the inclusion of ghosts and the supernatural isn’t odd. It’s believable. It’s as if Berman just opened our eyes to the fact that those elements existed not that he was creating them. The ghosts are tortured souls that mirror the living teens the main character deals with. It’s all very spooky and gothic and is exactly what I had wished would happen to me when I was younger. But let’s face it: nobody ran into a ghost at the Piggly Wiggly down the street! Boo!
This book is short (too short, Steve Berman, too short!) and sweet but it’s a very compelling read about a teen learning to fit in and accept who he is. There’s some romance, some supernatural, some coming of age stuff, and ultimately, some transformation of the main character. Even if the end feels as if it happens too quickly, you’ll love the writing style and the quirky main characters who will remind you of your own high school buddies.
So based on the follow criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. Oddly it wasn’t until I started my review that I realized we never learned the main character’s name! Usually that would be obvious and annoying but here it was a moot point. I bet you don’t notice either. The kid is quirky and gay but not at all as tortured as you’d assume. His overall moody gothicness never became depressing or eye-roll inducing. Instead he was fun and was willing to do anything. I like that in a character. He never seemed to realize that boys liked him or to judge people. He was also very real.
How much did I like the love interest: 10. There’s actually 2! A ghost and an underage sculptor. Bizarrely I liked them both. Josh was hot and vintage and Mike was a high school kid. Josh was irrational, violent, and still in love with his lover from the 50s. Mike was sweet and guileless and though afraid of how the main character would react, pursued him relentlessly. I didn’t know who to pick but come on, how much of a relationship can you have with a dead man?
How believable is the plot: 9. Like I mentioned above, Berman opens our eyes to the possibility of ghosts existing alongside the physical world. It doesn’t seemed forced or created. It’s as if he were showing us that this other world exists that we had overlooked and it felt 100% believable. The teenage stuff read like my high school diary. It was so true to what adolescent life and dialogue are like that I was surprised to learn Berman is far from his teenage years.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Berman is a master storyteller. The plot and action flow so quickly and nothing ever feels forced. Dialogue is perfect, setting perfect, the characters could have been plucked right out of my high school, and there are no grammar/spelling mistakes. Could this be one of the best written and edited books I’ve reviewed? Yes!
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. Be warned. Vintage ends abruptly; however with the ghost exorcised the story is pretty much over so you understand why, but you’ll still be disappointed. At least there’s an epilogue to give us some closure. I wanted it to keep going if only to find out what happens between the main character and Mike. I can only assume they fall madly in love, forge a great relationship, and move to NYC to live out their artsy dreams. Well, here’s hoping at least.
Final Score: 10/10. It’s so good, guys. You’ve got your paranormal elements and your teen drama all rolled into one. It’s well written and involves a gay protagonist. All I can do is tell you to read it because you will NOT be disappointed. Actually go get it, read it, and then tell me all about your experience in the comments. If you were as tortured as I was in high school, we should definitely be friends.