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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blog No. 1--Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith


Author: Andrew Smith

Bibliographic Information:
Published September, 2008
Feiwal & Friends (Macmillan).
Grade Range: 7 and up, Age Range: 12 and up
ISBN: 978-0-312-37557-7, ISBN10: 0-312-37557-3,
Young Adult Fiction, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 368 pages,

ALA’s Best Young Adult Books for 2008; Kentucky Blue Grass Award Master List.

Reader’s Annotation:
In many ways, Troy Stotts is a typical teenager who says he just wants to get on his horse, Reno and lose himself, so as not to have to think about the challenges in his life. However, with the recent death of his mother and his preoccupied, inattentive father, what Troy really wants is to find himself—and the redemption that self-knowledge brings.

Plot Summary:
Troy Stotts is a sixteen year-old boy who lives with his preoccupied professor father on his deceased mother’s Los Angeles-area ranch. He spends his summer trying to recover from his mother’s death by riding his horse, Reno, and camping out on the range with his best friends: Tom Buller, a ranch hand who seems to have no fear about anything; the shy but wily Gabe Benavidez, his “next door” neighbor who is the son of a wealthy ranch owner; and Luz Benavidez, Gabe’s sister, whom Troy has loved as long as he can remember. Together, the four companions forge a tight bond as they set out to find themselves in their last “free” summer before college. During their journey through the quintessential landscape, they wrangle wild horses, rattlesnakes and mountain lions, as well as the sheriff’s son and town bully, Chase—a violent, out-of-control young man who feels his birthright puts him above the law. Through the Native American philosophy of ghost medicine—rituals using nature’s signs and symbols to bring strength—the four not only discover their own courage, but gain the knowledge that life and love cannot last forever.

Critical Evaluation:
Andrew Smith’s tender, frank and highly literate coming of age story is filled with all of the pleasures of the quintessential western novel: horses, ranches, riding the range, and the many kinds of love a young man experiences in life: love of family, love of friends, love of a special woman, and love of the land. In Ghost Medicine, Smith offers his readers an up-to-date take on the theme of the corruption that comes with absolute power (in this case, the town sheriff and his son), while weaving a coming-of-age tale that balances all of the things reader have come to expect and enjoy in stories about the wild West with the real-life tragedies of life, and the mysteries of love in the modern millennial world. Filled with symbolism, flowing dialogue without much attribution, and intentional ambiguity, Ghost Medicine challenges the reader to leap into the story with both boots on and hold on for a ride that is not only adventurous but insightful—a ride that will lead Ghost medicine to eventually take its rightful place among the classic novels of all time, and Mr. Smith to the ranks of an author that will be someday proclaimed a national treasure.

Reading level/Interest Age:
Although the publisher recommends this book for grades 7 and up and age 12 years or older, I feel that this book would be more suitable for ages 14 and above, due to its highly literate style and subject matter. This is a great book for teen boys, although girls may find it interesting as well.

Information about the Author:
Andrew Smith lives on a ranch high in the mountains above Los Angeles with his wife, son and daughter. In addition to writing novels, Smith teaches advanced placement classes in Economics and the social sciences at an LA-area high school. He also coaches rugby. Mr. Smith graduated from Newbury Park High School in the Conejo Valley (Ventura County) where he returns yearly since Ghost Medicine was published to work with his alma mater’s creative writing class.

I was introduced to Andrew Smith in 2008, when I first became teacher-librarian at Newbury Park High School, from where Mr. Smith graduated in 1976. He had emailed me about Ghost Medicine, his first novel, and wanted to give the library a complimentary copy. Of course I said yes! When I found out that he was going to appear at the local Barnes and Noble two weeks later, I jumped at the chance to meet him in person. I went and listened to his presentation. What particularly struck me was the reason he wrote Ghost Medicine. He felt that there were few “real” contemporary stories out in the world for teen boys. He wanted his son, who didn’t find reading very interesting, to have something to read that wasn’t “fantasy.” He wrote Ghost Medicine to share with his son, but he never intended it to be a young adult novel. He just wrote a story that he wanted to tell. In fact, Mr. Smith is quite vocal about the young adult genre, and feels that a good story is a good story—and a good story can be for anyone.

After his presentation, I invited Mr. Smith to come back to Newbury Park to talk to our students about what it is like to be an author. He was very gracious, and accepted. In December, Mr. Smith presented to two assemblies of about 350 students each about the writing process, what it was like to be an author, and the steps one has to take to become successful. He told the very engaged audience that he gets up every morning at 3:30 a.m. to write—works for four hours, jogs, then gets ready to go to his day-job teaching high school. His approach to being a successful author is to write with dedication. His new book, In the Path of Falling Objects, was released in October, 2009. The Marbury Lens, his newest, is due out in 2010.

Curriculum Ties:
English. Ghost Medicine is a great book for inclusion with other coming-of-age stories, such as To Kill a Mockingbird.

Booktalking Ideas:
Ghost Medicine combines the elements that young male readers yearn for: a modern-day western tale of mystery, treachery and honor with a hero who has to overcome living with a grief-stricken with a single parent. Troy is a high school senior who wants to be left alone, yet still be noticed; a young man on the verge of adulthood who wants to have one final, memorable summer with the guys, their horses—and with the girl of his dreams. But the summer is far more memorable than Troy expects when he and his friends tangle in a war of words and deeds with the sheriff’s son—a bully who turns everyone’s life upside down and inside out, with an ending no reader would ever expect!

Challenge Issues:

Why I Included This Book:
I read Ghost Medicine after first meeting the author. I found the book to be extremely well written, and highly literate as well as engaging. It is a story that depicts another part of the Los Angeles I love, and am delighted that Mr. Smith chose to share this interesting locale, as well as a highly personal story, with his readers.

Cover image courtesy of publisher: http://us.macmillan.com/ghostmedicine

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