Ghost Horse

Set amidst the social tensions of 1970’s 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 white, 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 as 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.

Read an excerpt from Ghost Horse here on the Massachusetts Cultural Council website.  Ghost Horse was honored as a Finalist in the MCC 2014 grants competition.


An elegy for a lost father, an unforgettable fable of the power of art, Ghost Horse weaves a singular spell, captivating the reader and never letting go.

Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction


An adventure of feeling and intelligence, frightening in its penetration to the depth of a child’s anguish, Ghost Horse is a masterful novel. The reader’s heart opens to McNeely’s characters, and does not ever quite close again. This brave compassion is what fiction is for.

James Carroll, author of An American Requiem, winner of the National Book Award


In this dark, swirling, atmospheric novel Thomas McNeely brings to life the world of Buddy Turner and his deeply troubled parents and grandparents during a few desperate months in the mid-70s. Even as Buddy struggles to keep faith with his film about the ghost horse and his collaborator, Alex, the adults around him keep changing shape, keep lying. I know of few other novels that so powerfully evoke the chaos and powerlessness of childhood, even fewer that do so with such power and brilliance. Ghost Horse is a wonderful and compulsively readable debut.

Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Eva Moves the Furniture, winner of the PEN / L.L. Winship Award for Fiction


The rich interior life of a boy among boys whose home life has gone disastrously wrong; the origins of evil; the secrets, and the secret codes, of school bullies; the terrible things that we do to find, or avoid, sex; how adults manipulate each other, and what they try to get from children; ancient Rome; stop-motion animation; the binding of Isaac; the story of Cain; the history of race and class in Houston; the fallout of what looks like a slow-motion divorce—these are just some of the pieces that click into place within McNeely's terrifyingly sensitive novel, which finds a whole world of deceit and imagination among a couple of families and a boys' grade-school cabal. McNeely's prose—superbly attentive to what goes on in Buddy's head, and why—sets up scenes few readers will forget: it's a novel whose beautiful sentences match the wrong-way turns, the blood-red futilities, and the available insights, of its rough lives.

Stephen Burt, author of Belmont and Close Calls With Nonsense: Reading New Poetry


In Ghost Horse, his excellent debut novel, Thomas McNeely skillfully offers up the dark mysteries of the adult world through the eyes of a child. Wise, insightful, and exquisitely written, it lays bare the heartbreak of family life and lost friendship against the back drop of class and racial difference. Ghost Horse is that rare fictional rendering that truly illuminates real life.

Rishi Reddi, author of Karma and Other Stories, winner of the PEN / L.L. Winship Award for Fiction


Ghost Horse is a wrenching, poignant, and beautiful novel. McNeely evokes the searing landscapes of youth and South Texas with nuance and power. This is a story that stays with you like the long days of your last childhood summer, shading everything in your memory.

Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This and Corpus Christi: Stories


Thomas McNeely is a beautiful writer. I've read drafts of this book over the last ten years and I've been waiting all that time for the finished product. This is an incredible book about love and family and growing up. But mostly it's about the mysteries of the human heart.

Stephen Elliott, editor of The Rumpus; author of Happy Baby and The Adderall Diaries


Thomas H. McNeely’s moving, darkly beautiful debut novel, Ghost Horse, turns the emotional messiness of family life into something gripping and mysterious. One boy’s coming-of-age in 1970s Texas becomes the deeply compelling story of all who have ever shouldered an unwanted secret. McNeely is an astoundingly gifted writer exploring—to great effect—the vagaries and surprises of desire.

Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter and Sight Reading


Ghost Horse pulls the reader back to the not-so-sweet Seventies, a decade when America suffered a nationwide nervous breakdown. Set adrift among a broken family, tenuous loyalties, distrusted institutions, and class conflicts, middle schooler Buddy Turner retreats to a world of imagination, focusing on the one thing in his troubled environment he has control over: making a home movie with a comic-book script that expresses his underlying angst. With Ghost Horse, author Thomas H. McNeely adroitly captures the dynamics of a confused and conflicted time, when those individuals who lived through it, as with his novel’s characters, coped with the decade’s emotional, cultural, and spiritual crack-up as best they could.

Tim W. Brown, judge and author of Second Acts