Reader’s Oasis

Thanks to Reader’s Oasis for this thoughtful review: Ghost Horse by Thomas McNeely is a powerful debut novel; it is both a deeply moving coming-of-age story and an intense psychological portrait of a family in crisis. McNeely weaves an intricate web of a plot against the backdrop of the racial and class tensions of Houston of the 1970s, and explores themes of love, lost innocence, loyalty, and broken families. The tale of eleven-year-old Buddy over one unsettling year of his adolescence makes for a compelling and worthwhile read. Synopsis from Publisher: Set amidst the social tensions of 1970s Houston, Ghost Horse tells the story of eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s shifting alliances within his fragmented family and with two other boys–one Anglo, one Latino–in their quest to make a Super-8 animated movie. As his father’s many secrets begin to unravel, Buddy discovers the real movie: the intersection between life and he sees it and the truth of his own past. In a vivid story of love, friendship, and betrayal, Ghost Horse explores a boy’s swiftly changing awareness of himself and the world through the lens of imagination. My Thoughts: Ghost Horse is beautifully written. McNeely’s dialogue is sharp and believable, and he skillfully creates a suspenseful, dark atmosphere that fits the intensity of the story perfectly. The characters are richly drawn; Buddy’s two grandmothers, each controlling and difficult in her own way, his hardworking and hopeful mother, his volatile father swinging wildly from one extreme to another, the cold-eyed bully at Buddy’s new school—they all come startlingly, fully to life. Importantly, McNeely gets Buddy’s adolescent voice exactly right. Buddy is on the cusp of change, sitting at that precarious transition between childhood and adulthood; I’ve read precious few novels that capture that charged passage so exactly. Buddy’s anxiety and angst, as he struggles with difficulties at home and at school, are palpable. As the adults all around Buddy make bad decisions, tell lies, and prove themselves to be mostly unreliable, Buddy must learn–at far too young an age–to make his own choices and guide himself through the rough times ahead. McNeely touches on many themes in Ghost Horse—race, class, sexuality, lost friendship, bullying, and abuse, to name a few, and I could hold forth about how McNeely sheds light on all of these. But one issue that struck me in particular as I read Ghost Horse was that of broken families,...

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Fuelled by Fiction

Thank you to the Fuelled by Fiction blog for this thoughtful review of Ghost Horse and follow-up interview: It’s Houston, Texas, and it’s the 1970s. Buddy Turner is eleven years old and likes to make animated movies with his best friend, Alex Torres. Buddy’s parents don’t live together any more. Two years ago his father moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana to finish med school and serve the Army.  But now his dad has moved back to Houston, and he still doesn’t live with them. He is Buddy’s dad, but he’s not the same. Sometimes when Buddy looks at him, he sees his father. But other times, he see someone else. Buddy’s mom works hard to provide for him. She provides for her mother, Grandma Liddy, too. But his dad’s mother, Grandma Turner, doesn’t like his mother. She’s always saying things about her, about how he should come and live with his Grandma instead. His dad wants Buddy to live with him and the woman. He can’t tell his mother, though. Grandma Turner decided he should go to St. Edward’s school instead of Queen of Peace. So, he does. St. Edward’s is an all white Catholic school. Alex was Buddy’s best friend, and he did like making the movies, but now they seem childish. They’re not like real life. Now he doesn’t want his classmates to know that he’s friends with a Mexican. Buddy also doesn’t want them to know that his father doesn’t live with him. Ghost Horse tells a story that will stay with you. A story of racism, and class tension. A story of broken families and lost innocence. McNeely takes you back in time to when you were eleven. As you read, you see everything as Buddy sees it, and understand it (or don’t understand it) as Buddy does. You see the edges of dark, adult truths through the unknowing, innocent eyes of a child. Over time, however, Buddy starts to pick things up. Not everything, but enough to know when something’s wrong. You’re immediately drawn in to the story as you try to decipher the complexities of Buddy’s family through his naiveté. You’re alongside Buddy as he tries to make sense of his volatile family situation, but as a child, there’s only so much he can grasp; he knows both more and less than adults give him credit for. You feel his angst, his unease,...

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The Commonline Journal

Thanks to The Commonline Journal Editor Ada Fetters for this thoughtful review: Ghost Horse, by Thomas McNeely, is deeply rewarding for readers who appreciate a book in which every scene and every object are carries a weighty and sinister meaning. This is a world worth immersing oneself in, but beware: the water is deep. The book is set in 1970s Texas and focuses on an boy who attempts to piece together a world of contradictions: adult / child, truth / lie, dream / reality, Latino / Caucasian. Even as those around him tell him he is childish, Buddy struggles manfully to resolve both his inner and outer conflicts, even those that are beyond his eleven-year-old depth. McNeely writes with eerie precision the feelings of a child who must fit adult experiences into their  frame of reference. Buddy informs readers that he and his Latino friend Alex used to watch old movies such as Nosferatu and Vampire Circus together, though he believes that there are some scenes the scenes that “seemed to go on forever, because it made no sense,” in which a witch doctor circles around and around his victim while she laughs and cries at the same time. High points for style, since this striking image sums up our main character’s situation in several ways. Buddy is growing uneasy about his relationship with Alex and though the two of them are in the process of making a movie together, Buddy is unsure how to balance the world of his new, all-white school with the world of his best friend. He also seems to be vaguely aware of his own sexuality and is woefully unequipped to understand what is going on with him; the sermons at his church and railings of politicians are less than no help. Buddy is pervaded by the feeling that there is something “wrong” with him. This alone would be rough on a boy in 1970s Texas, but unfortunately, there is no room in his household for his confusion. Buddy’s own truth lies buried as he is sucked down into the secrets of his parents and grandparents. At the age of eleven, Buddy feels that his childhood is past. He must determine what is “the real movie,” what is a “lie” or a “joke” or “just childish.” Buddy feels dissociated from himself, as if he is watching himself in a movie. Indeed, themes of old-school horror...

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TEXAS MONTHLY

Thank you to Texas Monthly Books Editor Jeff Salamon for this notice: BOOKS Ghost Horse , Thomas McNeely (Gival Press, October 6) “Last day of fifth grade, Houston, Texas, 1975: the time before Star Wars.” So opens this former Dobie Paisano fellow’s haunting debut novel, which never allows its pop culture references or beautifully rendered sentences to soften the violence that life—his parents’ disintegrating marriage, his classmates’ cruelty, his grandmother’s vindictiveness—visits upon its sensitive...

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Poets & Writers

Not a review, but a round-up of small publishers and their authors – Gival Press and Ghost Horse are proud to be part of this article: GIVAL PRESS Founded: 1998 Location: Arlington, Virginia Publishes: Literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry Accepts: Queries via e-mail during the open reading period, from May 15 to August 15 Contact: givalpress@yahoo.com; givalpress.com THOMAS H. MCNEELY, the author of Ghost Horse, published in November by Gival Press: The one thing I would never do, I told myself, was enter my debut novel, Ghost Horse, in a publication contest. I had worked on it too long (almost thirteen years); my former Stegner fellows, many of whom had landed deals with major trade houses, would look down their noses at me; it would be an admission of failure. And yet, in the spring of 2013, that’s exactly what I did. I submitted Ghost Horse for the Gival Press Novel Award. It was the best decision I have ever made as a writer. By the time I sent Ghost Horse to Gival, it had already gone the rounds of New York agents. Even those who had courted me before now showed no interest. This was in 2010. At the end of that year, I was diagnosed with cancer. When I returned toGhost Horse in 2012, I saw it in a radically different way. It’s a novel that mixes the personal and political, and the worlds of childhood and adulthood, in a prickly, idiomatic, very local way—in other words, the kind of novel I like, but not the kind, I realized, that is likely to sell to a trade press. When I found the contest notice in Poets & Writers Magazine and checked out Gival Press’s backlist, I knew that I had found a home for Ghost Horse, if I was lucky enough to get in the door. By then, I had researched the independent press market as well. Where else would I find a press that was concerned with issues of race and class, especially relations between Anglo and Latino communities, especially in the Southwest? I feel incredibly lucky that Gival Press picked my book. Because Ghost Horse won Gival’s annual novel award, it hasn’t gotten “lost in the list,” as some of my colleagues’ books have at major houses. I have been amazed by Gival’s constant availability and kindness. We’ve discussed everything from the layout to cover...

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KPFT 90.1 Houston

KPFT Radio, the mighty 90!  Home of the Chicken Skin Bluegrass Show, Mr. Kamikaze and Mr. DNA, and of course, the Texas Prison Show.  Listen here to a interview on Houston’s legendary Pacifica station.  We talk about Houston, race and class relations in Ghost Horse, and much more.  After the interview, I even got to see the transmitter that had been blown up by the Ku Klux Klan at KPFT’s station downtown, a relic of Houston history and part of my own Houston mythology....

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