When Carlton High School graduate Eric Bergman visits his hometown, he sees the place differently than before.

That's because Bergman spent four years immersed in writing a novel about a fictional girl and her life in a little town called Lost Elm that's identical - down to the Hillside Cemetery on the southside of town and the courthouse on the north - to the Carlton he grew up in.

"There's characters there now," Bergman said of these hometown spots. "They're real people to me and I think, 'Oh, that's where that happened.' Of course, it didn't happen."

Bergman's first-novel, "Addie Braver," was released a couple weeks ago. Currently, Bergman lives in a suburb north of Minneapolis and teaches middle school social studies, but his parents remain in Carlton.

His novel, set in 1977, tells the story of Adeline Pearson's mission to protect the memory of her dead father and her younger brother from the reality of their lives. She's a 15-year-old known for her stubborn and tough resolve.

Aside from the death of her father when she was just 3 years old, Addie's biggest problem is her alcoholic stepfather. Her stepfather's neglectful ways and a memory of her own father inspire Addie to take matters into her own hands in order to honor all she has left in a life hollowed by loss.

While Addie lives in "Lost Elm," the fictional name for Carlton, other neighboring towns also make an appearance in the book. Cloquet became "Wood City" and Duluth remained Duluth in Bergman's fictional world.

Bergman, who said he has such fond memories for where he grew up, said writing the story was easy because he wrote about what he knew and he wrote about a place that's frozen in his memory.

"(The novel) is kind of a love letter to my childhood even though this story deals with difficult issues," Bergman said. "There's redemption in the story for multiple characters, including the stepfather. There's sacrifice. There's heroism, and small towns don't have a lot of heroes, or they don't get a lot of attention."

In the novel, Bergman acknowledges the death of the small town, how they "shrink and shrink," he said. He hopes that people who pick up his book and read it through will walk away understanding that small-town life can be rich as well as meaningful, and that ordinary lives, which most people live, he said, are filled with stories.

"Every life and every family has drama and tragedy and comedy and suffering," Bergman said. "Writing this really made me appreciate that."