3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
The premise of Berman’s Vintage is just a bit silly. The main character, an un-named 17-year-old boy, runs away from home after somewhat accidentally (or on purpose, but with bad judgment) “outing” himself as gay. His parents both freak-out, so he takes off to live with his aunt. Not silly or unbelievable so far, right? But then, this guy soon stumbles into the ghost of a teenager who was killed decades earlier. And they fall in lust with each other. Not long after, the main character discovers that he is a medium – ghosts that are wandering in limbo, with unfinished business, can sense him and talk to him. To add even more complexity to his life, he realizes that he’s actually falling for another boy, one who’s alive – but also, possibly, off-limits. Poor guy – he has to somehow learn to control his abilities so that ghosts are not constantly haunting, while juggling his friendships, relaying the truth about himself to his aunt, building a new relationship, and helping the 1950s ghost boy to find closure, so that he can move on from this world. If all of this sounds ridiculous, well, it is – but the strangest part is that it all works. The story is moving, funny, tragic, and rewarding.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
Although Berman gives very limited information about our narrator (we never learn his name, and he is only described physically one time, briefly), we seem to get to know him all the same. Not just that, but we get to know the important parts of him, as if Berman is making a point about what is and is not important – looks, names, ages, who cares? It’s what’s inside of a person that really matters. He does this with other characters, too, although we do get the names and physical descriptions of anyone else. Still, their real nature comes across in dialogue and in actions – “Second Mike,” for example, is described physically as a younger, smaller version of his eldest brother, but it’s not the physical description that is interesting, it’s his personality, his artistry, his talents and soft-spoken nature. Similarly, the main character’s aunt, his parents, and his best friends (and even his boss at the Vintage clothing shop where he works), are named and described “in passing,” as it were – but come to life through their reactions to situations and through their interactions with other characters. This is, in my opinion, the best way to develop characters – to let them live.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Unfortunately, this book has quite a few proofreading errors which were at times distracting, and which really should have been caught and corrected in the editing process. I am not certain about the publication history of this book, but each chapter’s first page has its copyright information on it, so my conjecture is that it was originally published in electronic and/or serial form. The chapters are each episodes in the larger story – each chapter is titled after the day taking place in that scene, starting with “Friday” and progressing forward so that they are each literally “a day in the life” of the main character. This makes a rather odd story easy to follow and the episodes in themselves also keep the story on track and help the reader focus about each of the important elements happening, as well as how the main character is awakening to his own abilities, desires, and needs, over time. The larger structure is not even the best part, though. The prose and dialogue are very well done – engaging and well-paced, suspenseful when necessary and relaxed in lighter moments. Character dialogue is believable (not always easy to do when adult writers are working with younger characters), but there is a bit of a discordance in the language of the 1950s characters – they lived decades earlier but speak generally like the contemporary characters, which is a bit of an issue. Otherwise, though, the prose and style are fantastic. The moments when our main character is experiencing the past, through the ghosts memories, are particularly poignant and well-crafted.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
Supernatural/Paranormal (and especially paranormal romance) books are not ones I traditionally read or enjoy. The plot of this one, though, sounded interesting. It also seemed an appropriate read for late-October, as it has a Halloween feel to it and it suits the Literary Others event, which is just coming to a close. I am absolutely glad that I decided to take a risk and try something out of my comfort zone – although it’s an unusual paranormal romance, in that the romance involves gay teenagers (one of whom is a ghost, not a vampire/werewolf, etc.), it is a good one. The friendships and personalities are interesting and believable – quick-witted, angsty teenagers combine with a spooky and sometimes suspenseful ghost story and then conjoin to a boy’s journey toward self-acceptance and finding love. It’s a mix of great individual components that come together surprisingly well to create a fun and silly story that, despite its goofy unbelievability (I mean, come on, it has ghosts – and not only ghosts, but sexually desirable, horny ghosts who “do it” with the main character!), it is actually quite moving and important. Commentary on familial relationships, friendships, urban legends, and suicide all add to the primary plot, giving complexity to a bizarre but enticing paranormal romance. I was expecting to “enjoy” this book – but I might have actually fallen in love with it. Oops.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Gay Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Coming Out, Ghost Stories, YA, Suicide
“It’s autumn. Everything happens in the autumn.” (16)
“Public displays of emotion are like chicory. Seeing too much leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a sour stomach.” (22)
“He came nearer and lowered his head until his face brushed mine and it seemed as if winter pressed against my mouth and a cold gust broke through my parted lips. Such kisses break laws.” (39)
“We start with people that aren’t right for us. We’re so busy wanting love that we never even thank what the hell love needs back.” (99)
“No one ever resists what’s bad for them.” (137)