Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Giving up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

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Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted
Author: Eric Nuzum
Publisher: Dial Press
Paperback: 320 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Eric Nuzum is afraid of the supernatural, and for good reason: As a high school oddball in Canton, Ohio, during the early 1980s, he became convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress who lived in his parents’ attic. It began as a weird premonition during his dreams, something that his quickly diminishing circle of friends chalked up as a way to get attention. It ended with Eric in a mental ward, having apparently destroyed his life before it truly began. The only thing that kept him from the brink: his friendship with a girl named Laura, a classmate who was equal parts devoted friend and enigmatic crush. With the kind of strange connection you can only forge when you’re young, Laura walked Eric back to “normal”—only to become a ghost herself in a tragic twist of fate. 
Years later, a fully functioning member of society with a great job and family, Eric still can’t stand to have any shut doors in his house for fear of what’s on the other side. In order to finally confront his phobia, he enlists some friends on a journey to America’s most haunted places. But deep down he knows it’s only when he digs up the ghosts of his past, especially Laura, that he’ll find the peace he’s looking for.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Ten pages into this book, I was surprised to find that it was non-fiction. Seriously. I don't know if it was just me, but I definitely thought this was going to be a kind of literary paranormal/horror novel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a memoir though, and I was hooked right from the beginning.

Giving up the Ghost is about Eric Nuzum's search for answers. Since he was a boy, he'd been haunted by a ghost he called The Little Girl, and as he grew older, he became increasingly haunted by his friends and acquaintances that have died far too early in life, especially Laura -- a girl who was his best friend and whom he was in love with at one point. Nuzum explores the past by switching from past events and to the present, where he is actively searching for haunted places in order to find answers about The Little Girl, and possibly Laura.

The beginning hooked me and I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. It's interesting, funny, and has some truly moving moments. I'm also a fan of dysfunctional stuff, and Nuzum certainly had a lot of that going on in his life. It's also very open and honest -- I almost felt like I was listening to a friend's confessional or something. Nuzum leaves everything on the page, which makes for a raw, emotional experience.

Though I think there could have been more organization in terms of letting the reader know when everything was taking place (dates at the beginning of chapters would have been helpful), I loved the back-and-forth between the past and present. Seeing the parallels and changes that have happened from Nuzum as a teenager to Nuzum as an adult was interesting, and it really helped move the story along.

I would have liked there to be more of a focus throughout the book. The beginning was really strong, I think, but it started to lag in the middle because of all the issues that Nuzum tried to tackle. And near the end, I wasn't sure what message I was supposed to be taking from his stories. Like I said before, Giving up the Ghost is about a search for answers, a search for the meaning behind past events. However, this sometimes gets lost in all Nuzum's stories about drugs, fits of rage, and dysfunctional relationships. Don't get me wrong -- they're good stories. And I think that they should definitely be told, but not necessarily in this book. It would have been much stronger and much more satisfying if the focus stayed on The Little Girl, his relationship with Laura, and his search for haunted places.

With that said, I still enjoyed it and I think it's a worthwhile read. I'm also very interested in reading more of Nuzum's work.

*I was provided a free copy from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.*