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Vintage: A Ghost Story
Steve Berman
Haworth Positronic Press, 150 pages

Vintage: A Ghost Story
Steve Berman
Steve Berman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and now living in New Jersey. He attended first Tulane University, earning a Bachelor's degree in English literature, then later studied History at Rutgers-Camden campus in Camden, New Jersey as well as a Master's degree in Liberal Studies in 2006. He briefly worked in the publishing industry, both as a senior book buyer at an academic and then trade wholesaler, and in the marketing department of a small publisher in Philadelphia. His work has been nominated three times for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards and once for the Lambda Literary Award. Vintage: A Ghost Story was his first novel.

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A review by Sherwood Smith

Steve Berman's book is quite Goth -- set around Halloween, its protagonists Goth kids with their joint-smoking and Goth affect, depression, alienation... and the possibility that those who have died under tragic circumstances never actually rest.

One night while walking down a deserted highway in September, the young first-person protagonist sees a handsome boy who is wearing a fifties costume, or is it a costume? We soon discover that he is the ghost of an athlete who met his death years before, and the town has known about this ghost walking the highway since 1957. But for the first time, Josh, the ghost, leaves the highway and follows someone, and even speaks to him. The hero goes to the cemetery to find out more, and is haunted by a whole lot more ghosts. These ghosts are not pleasant Caspar the Friendlies. And Josh's interest in the living boy is.. well, an obsession. As, in fact, one might expect from a ghost.

The story is vivid with detail, the characters real and (mostly) appealing: his best friend Trace, the Goth girl who was the first person he met after he ran away from home. His Aunt Jan, who took him in after his own parents, in rejecting him for being gay, brought him very close to suicide; he ran away as an act of self-preservation. Trace's younger brother is called Second Mike -- the first Mike having had a tragic history. At first he's just an annoying little brother always hanging around, but when the narrator sees a beautifully made clay sculpture of a kelpie that Second Mike made, the younger boy becomes a human being and not just an irritating little brother. He becomes... Mike.

There is a lot of grief, angst, anger in this story, but Berman skillfully makes it bearable with his humor and eye for detail, his ability to present interesting and appealing characters, and his compassion for the struggles and emotions of teens, especially (but not exclusively) gay teens. The horrid side of how gays are treated gets aired through memories, but we're not overwhelmed with Message -- these flashbacks are integral to the story.

It's a short book, I'd say for the savvy high schooler and above: as you'd expect with Goth kids, there is rough language, references to drugs, some vividly described intimate encounters. Above all it's a compassionate, even sweet tale, loving in all the right ways. Exciting, too, as the stakes are raised.

I believe it's worth reporting that a portion of the royalties is dedicated to two charities that work to prevent gay teen suicide: Berman, in writing the book, had been sending the chapters to a young gay teen who had enjoyed reading them, but who finally could no longer endure homophobic cruelty in his environment, and checked quietly out of life before the book was done.

Copyright © 2007 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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