With a firm sense of place and time, Thomas McNeely creates a tableau of class and race segregation juxtaposed with the frailty of youth: One young boy exists in the tormenting forces of his own personal hurricane of a broken family and a broken society that throws him down and swirls him around without regard to their tragic effect on him.
Eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s understanding of what it means to be normal hangs in the balance. He’s facing the trials of growing up and a family unit in shambles and his whole world is about to change. It’s the 1970s, Houston, and most kids don’t expect to be thrown into the nasty realities of a broken home. However, this is Buddy’s reality in Thomas McNeely’s debut novel, Ghost Horse.
Buddy’s mother spends much of her time working in a hospital laboratory while his absentee father comes back to town leaving Buddy with a fresh set of empty promises and his mother with a request for a divorce.
Buddy’s only escape is working on an animated film with his best friend, Alex Torres. Together, the boys create a film about a ghost horse. Entering into the work helps Buddy avoid the painful realities at home and serves as a buffer for his heartache. Indeed, the movie the boys create is a metaphor for the upheaval Buddy is experiencing in the real world.
McNeely expertly weaves an intricate and darkly complex story of a boy trying to gain a foothold in a world–a raw, and sometimes, painful coming-of-age story. The book took ten years to pen through the author’s own turbulent waters and his father’s untimely death and at points the reader can see his internal battle emerging in his writing in this heart-rending coming-of-age tale set in the turbulent 1970s.
In the broader spectrum of the novel, McNeely unleashes his questions about class and racial prejudices, and how adult behavior informs children who are expected to follow suit. Ultimately, however, McNeely’s storytelling is rich with texture and the soulful portrayal of a lost boy, who is un-moored by those whom should care for him the most. Ghost Horse has the weighted emotional cache and heartfelt pertinence that enables the tale to tug at the reader for a very long time.