Thursday, 20 June 2013

Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman

- Review by Cindi

4.5 out of 5 stars

I admit to being lax in reading and reviewing Young Adult books recently.  I kept looking for that one book that was unique.  I found that with Vintage:  A Ghost Story by Steve Berman.  This book would never be called more of the same.

The main character (whose name is never given in the book) has recently run away from the home of his parents to live with his favorite aunt, Jan.  His parents are the stereotypical homophobic parents read about and experienced all over the place.  They did not want their son to be different and it was made clear to him that he would no longer be welcome in their home unless he conformed to their beliefs.  Instead of trying to change who he is, the teen ran off in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, his aunt was quick to accept him into her home.  

They told me I was a tremendous disappointment as well as a sick child.  I left the very next morning.  The bus station opened before my folks even woke up.
Vintage: A Ghost Story

The protagonist is seventeen-years-old and has only recently accepted that he is beyond a doubt a gay male.  Not just a gay male, but a very lonely gay male.  

I didn't need to be reminded of my loserdom, having yet to go out on one single date or even kiss another boy.

Moving in with his aunt was supposed to help him to make a new start, a new life.  He meets a girl who is his age in a video store, Trace, and a strong friendship is born.  Trace picks up on the fact that he is gay pretty quickly as do her other friends, some of which become his as well and some of which he tries to avoid. His loneliness continues to get worse as the weeks go by.  He dies a little inside each time he sees couples who are so obviously taken with one another.  

Walking home down a long stretch of highway one night he believes that perhaps his luck has changed.  Coming toward him is a good looking boy around his age.  The stranger is wearing clothes right out of the fifties including a letterman football jacket.  The clothing intrigues the young man as he himself has a slight obsession with vintage clothing as he works in a shop that specializes in them.  At first the stranger doesn't speak but when he does the main character's life is changed forever.

The legend of Joshua Wyle is well known in the area.  Walking home late one night after a party, he is struck and killed by a vehicle on a lonely stretch of road.  Sightings of Joshua have been reported for decades but never has the ghost or apparition spoken to anyone... until now. Not only does he speak to the boy but he follows him home to his aunt's house.  A quick lust/love relationship is there for the protagonist though falling in love with a ghost is even more disturbing than being obsessed with all other things morbid as the boy is.  Within a short amount of time there is sexual contact between boy and ghost.  What starts as something exciting quickly turns terrifying.  The ghost of Josh Wyle is not one that should be messed with.  He was not a very nice person in life and this carries over to him in death.  As terrifying events begin to unfold for the protagonist, other ghosts make themselves known; at cemeteries, old buildings, the library, the list goes on.  One such ghost is Mike, the older brother of Trace.

Trace lives with her father and her fifteen-year-old brother who is known as "Second Mike".  Mike's name broke my heart.  He is referred to as "Second Mike" by all because he was named after his other brother (First Mike) who disappeared when he was only eleven years old and is presumed dead.  Trace and Mike's father lives at home but works a lot.  Their mother never recovered from the disappearance of the first Mike so she had to be institutionalized.  She was institutionalized after insisting on having another child who she hoped would take the place of the one she lost.  I liked Mike's father in the story as he comes across as a very good guy. However, I did not like that he had felt that it was okay to name his second son after one presumed dead.  You do not try to replace one child by giving another the same name.

The "second Mike" was an odd kid.  Maybe being named after your older brother did that. Or wearing so many of his hand-me-downs.  He wasn't a bad kid, but he had the knack of being annoying and underfoot.

There are other characters who add to the story, some in a good way and some not.  Liz and Maggie are a lesbian couple who have their own issues.  There is Kim, a friend of Liz, Maggie and Trace who is really not any type of friend at all.  Thankfully Kim is not in the story much.  Aunt Jan was a pleasure to read about.  She had her rules for her nephew but she also had his back.

Then there are the ghosts who are suddenly making their presence known but only to the protagonist of the story. One of which is First Mike.  This is disturbing on many levels because now the boy is questioning all the times he saw "Mike" at Trace's house and wondering which Mike did he see as the resemblance between them is shocking.  Now he is unsure of all the people he comes in contact with.  Are they ghosts or are they real?  Some are kind but most are threatening.  Much later in the story does the reason for his 'ability' come out.

"What's wrong with me?" I did not want to suddenly start bawling.  But I was afraid. Everywhere I went I seemed surrounded by spirits.  I remembered the one with the knife from last night.  He had been bad; suppose the next one is worse?

Josh goes from being a friendly, sexy ghost to being a constant threat for the MC and those he is close to.  In life he was a jealous person.  In death he is even more so.  When Josh begins threatening those the MC holds dear, he knows it is time to make him go away somehow.  While doing so, he hopes to also find out what really happened to First Mike.

This is an amazing story.  The young man is so desperate for love and attention that he latches on to the first being person who shows him any type of real attention.  Only later does he see that the person he is looking for is very much alive and practically under his nose.

Parts of this book are seriously creepy.  The ghosts are not all good ghosts and some of their deaths are described rather graphically.  Also, think talking dolls.  That is only one very small part of the story but it was more than enough for me.  Dolls don't scare me.  Creepy, talking dolls? Well, yeah. :)

Eventually with the help from friends, Josh is made to disappear into the afterlife.  First Mike's disappearance is explained and Second Mike is no longer forced to live in the shadow of his namesake as all mysteries are now solved.  The ending, while a little rushed, was perfect.  Steve Berman is a masterful storyteller if I am to go by his writing in Vintage: A Ghost Story.  He has definitely gained a new fan.

Note:  This book may be disturbing to some readers.  There are very few sexual situations but the ones mentioned are between a person and a ghost.  Also, I touched on the talking doll.  This is only one part of the book that would be classified as creepy or disturbing. Keep this in mind before reading this book.  The rest of the story is completely age appropriate for teens in my opinion.  


  1. This sounds so good. And different to what is often on offer in the LGBT YA marketplace. Great review, Cindi.

    1. Thank you. It was definitely one of the best YA books I've read. I will be seeking out more by this author for sure.

  2. Thank you so much for the flattering and kind words.


    1. You're very welcome, Steve. This quickly went on my favorites list. I will definitely be reading more of your work in the near future.