Vintage’s protagonist is an unnamed mostly closeted gay teen, who I will call MC (short for “Main Character”) from here on out. MC ran away from home after his parents reacted badly to learning that he was gay, so now he lives with his aunt, who he’s afraid might do the same thing. The only people who know his secret are his new friend Trace and several other friends she introduced him to.
His life here is better than it had been back with his parents. He has friends, he’s convinced his aunt to let him drop out of school and get his GED and work instead, and he likes his job at the vintage clothing shop. Still, a part of him is always afraid that the wrong person will find out he’s gay and ruin everything and, at the same time, he desperately wants a boyfriend. When he sees a cute boy in vintage clothes walking alone, he takes a risk and talks to him. And even though he’s a weird goth kid talking to a guy dressed like a jock, it doesn’t go badly! Unfortunately for MC, Josh, the cute boy, is a ghost.
At first, MC and Trace are delighted at the prospect of meeting a real ghost. However, things soon take a turn for the worse. Josh follows MC home. Although MC is excited that a boy is finally interested in him, Josh’s touch could literally suck the life out of him. Josh’s raging jealousy is another problem. If MC and Trace can’t figure out how to put Josh to rest, MC and anyone he cares out could end up dead.
The first half of this book wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Nearly every character was messed up in some way, and it seemed like a potentially murderous ghost was the least of their problems. Liz's parents were mostly absent. Trace's mother was in an institution, her older brother, Mike, was either dead or a runaway, and her mother had her younger brother as a replacement for her older brother, even going so far as to name him after him. MC had tried to commit suicide in the past but instead had just woken up in a puddle of his own vomit.
MC’s friends’ idea of fun was getting together and drinking something called Jim Joneses, a mixture of different flavors of Kool-Aid, vodka, and, in one special glass, a random crushed up pill from the hostess’s medicine cabinet. At the particular gathering featured in the book, they then tried out a Ouija board - at the time, only Trace and MC knew it would be a bad idea for MC to be involved in anything like that.
At any rate, this had more drug use and steamier sex than I generally expect to find in a young adult book. For those wondering, I felt the drug use was at least presented as a negative thing, and the sex (a couple scenes, if I remember right) was explicit enough to include bodily fluids but wasn’t otherwise very detailed.
The second half of the book was better than the first. It included more ghost scenes, including one aspect I love in “I can see ghosts” stories: MC realizing that he can’t always tell when the person he’s seeing or talking to is a ghost or not. Creepy. My favorite instance of this involved a ghost with a connection to one of MC’s friends.
Another nice thing about the second half of the book was the way MC gradually gained self-confidence. He learned that there were more supportive people in his life than he realized, and he started a relationship with a boy who was a much healthier option than Josh. I liked how their relationship progressed, and I liked the way MC did his best to keep from rushing him into anything. They seemed like they’d make a sweet couple.
I thought I’d end up hating this book, but it actually grew on me. I don’t know that I’d ever want to reread it, but if there were ever a sequel I’d probably give it a shot. And I’d hope that Mike got a prominent role. Considering his situation, it was amazing how well-adjusted he was. Instead of ingesting pills like everyone else, he created amazing sculptures.
One thing I’m still wondering about: why MC was never named. At first, I assumed it was a sign of his low self-esteem. If someone had told him he was a character in a book and asked him to guess what his role probably was, in the first half of the book he’d probably have said Trace was the main character and he was her sidekick. He viewed her as perfect and wonderful, while he was anything but. It was painful. He became more confident later on, but when the perfect opportunity presented itself for the author to finally have another character name him, all readers got was something along the lines of “He said my name.” If the name thing had been meant as an indicator of his feelings about himself, it would have made more sense to have someone finally say his name at some point near the end.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)