Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith
Ghost Medicine was Andrew's debut novel way back in 2008. It's my favorite of all his books. Those of you who've read The Marbury Lens might be shocked by that statement, and it's certainly hard to compare any novel to that literary phenomenon, but I want to point out that I didn't say Ghost Medicine was his best novel, just my favorite.
It would be impossible to call one of Andrew's books better than the any of the others. They're all great. Now, I know I review a lot of Andrew's books, and I promise to some day start talking about books other than his, but not today. Before I get to what touched me about this story, let me give you the jacket copy:
The summer before Troy Stotts turns seventeen, his mother dies. Troy and his father barely speak, communicating instead by writing notes on a legal pad by the phone. Troy spends most of his time with his closest friends: Tom Buller, brash and fearless, the son of a drunk; Gabe Benavidez, smart enough to know he’ll never take over the family ranch; and Gabe’s sister, Luz, whose family overprotects her, and who Troy has loved since they were children.
Troy and his friends don’t want trouble. They want this to be the summer of what Troy calls “ghost medicine,” when time seems to stop, so they won’t have to face the past or the future. But before the summer is over, their paths will cross in dangerous and fateful ways with people who will change their lives: Rose, a damaged derelict who lives with a flock of wild horses and goats; and Chase Rutledge, the arrogant sheriff’s son.
Troy and his friends want to disappear. Instead, they will become what they least expect —brothers, lovers, heroes, and ghosts.
I loved this book from the very first paragraph. I stepped into Troy's skin the moment I met him. It may be because I basically was Troy at his age: distant father, dead mother, in love with a beautiful girl above his station. The only thing Troy had that I didn't was a strong male relationship. Two of them, actually.
If you thought Jack and Conner showed you how much two young men can mean to each other, wait until you read about Troy Stotts and Tommy Buller. Tom is the strong one, the big brother figure who is at Troy's side everywhere, and who loves Troy and their other best friend, Gabe Benavidez, with a fierce loyalty that only the optimism of youth can inspire. I would have given anything for friends like Tommy and Gabe when I was young, scared, and alone.
The characters in this story jump off the page at you, and kick you in the face with their humanity. I'm not going to give anything away here, but I can tell you there was a moment when I emailed Andrew just to say "you better not." You'll see what I mean when you read this book.
Ghost Medicine also takes place in one of the most beautiful settings I've ever read. In an unknown town in the mountainous west, Troy's father owns a farm next to the Benavidez horse ranch. They're surrounded by mountains, alpine meadows, and deep granite lakes. It reminded me of my own youth, and the time I spent in the mountains, which was beautiful.
I've seen this book compared to Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, and I don't think that's a terrible argument, since they're both full of lovely imagery and poetic language, but I think it's unfair to classify and pigeonhole this book that way. This book is more accessible, more immediate, and ultimately, I think, tells a more powerful tale.
I could probably go on, but I've made my point. I finished this book over a month ago, but the afterglow still warms my heart.
I've talked about Andrew enough that you guys probably know where to find him by now, but just in case, two links:
Ghost Medicine on Amazon.
Oh, P.S. There is one moment in this book that absolutely took my breath away. Email me when you read it, and I bet you'll feel the same way.