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A different kind of ghost story

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Giving Up the Ghost' a haunting, haunted memoir

Being a teenager can be difficult. Being a teenager who's a little (or a lot) different can be even more difficult. Being a teenager who's a little different in a small town can border on the impossible or at least it can feel that way.

That's the way Eric Nuzum felt growing up in Canton, Ohio in the early 1980s. That's according to Nuzum's memoir 'Giving Up the Ghost' (Dial Press, $15), a thoughtful, poignant and painfully funny look back at the ghosts of childhood.

But there is more than one kind of ghost.

Nuzum spent his teenage years convinced that he was being haunted by the ghost of a little girl in a blue dress. Not only did she appear to him in dreams, but he also periodically found himself overcome by a sense of her presence. While it began as a vaguely dread premonition, it ended with Nuzum in a psych ward.

According to him, the only thing that kept him together the only thing that gave him any reason to come up for air from the drug- and alcohol-addled haze in which he was living his life was a high school classmate. Her name was Laura and she was a friend and a crush and a not-quite girlfriend. She helped Nuzum through the toughest of times right until she died herself.

As a seemingly well-adjusted adult, Nuzum has a good job and a family, but he also can't deal with closed doors in his house; he's afraid of what might be on the other side. He decides to confront his fear head-on, so he enlists a few friends to pay visits to some of America's most haunted and/or spiritually charged places.

He soon realizes that even if he somehow stumbles upon some spirit or other, it will never be the ghost he is looking for. He will not find the girl in the blue dress and he certainly won't find Laura. Until he finds a way to confront the spirits that truly haunt him, he will always struggle to lay claim to the peace he seeks.

'Giving Up the Ghost' could easily have become just another coming-of-age story, one more child of the 80s sadfacing his way through his record collection and old girlfriends and recounting his dalliances with airplane glue and wine coolers. Nuzum gives us something much more. It's an honest and compelling story about a boy who is haunted both literally and figuratively.

The things that matter to teenaged Eric are the same things that matter to any high school boy. He cares about music and girls. He dresses punk rock and acts like an ahole because he thinks it will make people laugh which will in turn make people accept him. He feels like no one understands him.

Laura understands him, even if he doesn't understand her. And the girl in the blue dress understands him as well, albeit in a different and much more frightening way.

Not only does Nuzum capture the universality of the teenage experience, but his depiction of his quest to visit America's most haunted places provides a welcome (and very funny) counterpoint to his recounting of his youth. His visits to haunted prisons and legendary stretches of highway and the center of American Spiritualism come together to paint a hilarious, yet slightly sad picture of a man trying his best to confront fears that he has never fully understood.

Sometimes, our memory of a thing can become more than the thing itself ever was. Hell, that's practically a definition of adolescence a definition rendered powerfully and perceptively by 'Giving Up the Ghost.' Too often, memoirs lose their relatability through overreaching specificity. Not so here; Eric Nuzum uses the fascinatingly quirky details of his own past to expose truths that easily apply to any square peg who spent his teenage years raging against a perceived round hole.

There are many different kinds of ghosts, each frightening in its way. Eric Nuzum's bravery in sharing his personal ghosts with the world should be applauded; it also makes one hell of a compelling read.


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