Ghost Medicine

Ghost Medicine

4.5 7
by Mike Chamberlain
The summer before Troy Stotts turns seventeen, his mother dies. Troy and his father barely speak, mostly 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


The summer before Troy Stotts turns seventeen, his mother dies. Troy and his father barely speak, mostly 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 with people in dangerous and fateful ways.
Troy and his friends want to be invisible. Instead, they will become what they least expect–brothers, lovers, heroes, and ghosts.

From the Compact Disc edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Smith's first novel, a deceptively simple coming-of-age story, defies expectations via its sublime imagery and its elliptical narrative structure. Troy, 16, and two childhood friends spend the summer following Troy's mother's death wrangling wild horses while drinking homemade wine and sampling chewing tobacco. Each of their brushes with danger-a rattlesnake attack, a predatory mountain lion-they commemorate with tattoos and rituals in homage to the mysterious force they call "ghost medicine." The intrepid Troy-who, in the beginning of the book, reads sections of The Idiot and Jude the Obscure while hiding out in his grandfather's mountain cabin with his horse-grapples with his mother's death through philosophical ruminations: "There might be a God [but] He is, at best, ambivalent to all of the things set in motion in this world." In the periphery is Troy's first love, Luz, for whom Troy contemplates staying forever in the idyllic landscape, rather than leaving for college. While the summer climaxes with jarring violence, the possibility of a true departure never materializes: the outside world is held at bay by the inscrutable questions unveiled in the book's conclusion. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This first novel by Smith (a horse rancher who teaches AP classes and coaches rugby) reveals his deep understanding of young people and horses. The story begins with a foreboding prologue that makes clear this story is about the death of three boys, and Troy, the narrator saying, "…I wonder, sometimes, what might have happened if we hadn't shot Chase Rutledge." The first chapter tells of Troy's anger at his father the month his mother dies of cancer, and his taking his horse Reno up the mountain to camp out alone, introducing the place that is so important to the story. Troy's friend and neighbor Luz rides up some days later to find him and bring him home…this is the time their love for one another turns into romantic love. As the summer continues, Troy works on the ranch for Luz's father. His best friends are Luz's younger brother Gabe and the son of the foreman, Tommy. This emphasis on young men and their horses reminds me somewhat of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, especially when the young men encounter evil for the first time and try to understand the complications of their own guilt and innocence. But Smith doesn't have the same control over his prose that McCarthy has, and this long story would have been more powerful with some further editing. Still, the plot is gripping, and Smith succeeds with wonderful characterizations, with his descriptions of a memorable setting and way of life and the bonds of friendship and love shared by Tommy, Luz, Gabe, and Troy. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
VOYA - Matthew Weaver
Sixteen-year-old Troy Stotts leaves home with his horse Reno after the death of his mother. His father is too silent to go after him but not so Luz, the girl of Troy's dreams. She tracks him down and urges him back. Troy starts working for Luz's father and deepens his friendship with Luz's weak-willed brother, Gabey, and longtime best buddy, Tom Buller, the epitome of older brother cool, occasionally running afoul of the unsavory son of a local sheriff's deputy. The characters live in a place where injuries must either be tended immediately or risk death waiting for help, and rattlesnakes and mountain lions are lifted to mystic-level threats. There is a haunting beauty to this story in which boys become men. Looking beyond the relative novelty of a teen Western, this book is a pitch-perfect coming-of-age tale destined to be held aloft alongside other classics of young adult literature. The story flows like stark, lovely poetry shared by best friends around a mountainside campfire. A real-life Los Angeles area rancher and high school teacher, Smith takes all the trappings of stories mastered by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, or even Harper Lee to deliver a work at once both timelessly classic and vibrantly fresh. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Distant from his emotionally absent father, and missing his mother, who died recently, 16-year-old Troy first finds solace on a solo camping trip and then with his friends-Tom Buller, a wild and fearless farmhand; Gabe Benavidez, the timorous and underestimated son of a wealthy Western ranch owner; and Luz Benavidez, Gabe's sister and Troy's lifetime love. That summer is a journey of loss, self-discovery, pain, triumph, and growth as the young people try to define who they are and what they're meant to do. Oftentimes they seek answers from what Troy calls Ghost Medicine, a Native American philosophy that explains the strength and signs that can be drawn from nature. While Troy senses that change is coming fast and fierce, he never imagines the deadly threat the sheriff's son imposes when childhood pranks, jealousy, and vengeance get out of control. Troy wishes to be lost, but his greatest hope is to be found, and Ghost Medicine beautifully captures that paradox in this timeless and tender coming-of-age story. Not only will it inspire readers to prod the boundaries of their own courage, but it will also remind them that life and love are precious and fleeting.-Terri Clark, Smokey Hill Library, Centennial, CO

Kirkus Reviews
To escape the ghosts lurking between him and his father after his mother's death, 16-year-old Troy Stotts takes a job working for his crush Luz's father and spends his free time with his optimistic best friend, Tommy Buller, fixing up town recluse Rose's decrepit house. When the sheriff's thuggish son tries to rape Luz, Troy and his friends engage in an escalating antagonism that leads to both death and openness. Though Smith's lyrical prose moves at a glacial pace, the slowly building narrative gathers the heart-wrenching moments together to create a fully engrossing tale. Understating the violence, Smith instead allows readers to create their own graphic images of skewered horses and gunshot wounds. Troy's attempts at invisibility contrast with other characters' desire for recognition and fatherly approval. Rose grows beyond a stock crotchety cat lady to provide moments of genuine humor and insight, very much in the mold of Terry Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax. After a slow start, Smith canters to a satisfying finish. (Fiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher

“A pitch-perfect coming-of-age tale destined to be held aloft alongside other classics of young adult literature. The story flows like stark, lovely poetry shared by best friends around a mountainside campfire.” —Voice of Youth Advocates

“Smith's first novel, a deceptively simple coming-of-age story, defies expectations via its sublime imagery and its elliptical narrative structure.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Troy wishes to be lost, but his greatest hope is to be found, and Ghost Medicine beautifully captures that paradox in this timeless and tender coming-of-age story. Not only will it inspire readers to prod the boundaries of their own courage, but it will also remind them that life and love are precious and fleeting.” —School Library Journal

“The slowly building narrative gathers the heart-wrenching moments together to create a fully engrossing tale. . . . Troy's attempts at invisibility contrast with other characters' desire for recognition and fatherly approval. . . . Smith canters to a satisfying finish.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Ghost Medicine

By Andrew Smith


Copyright © 2008 Andrew Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1804-6


Sixteen is too young to lose your mother, people kept telling me. She died in June, before the summer came.

* * *

I had planned to wake up earlier, at 3, so my father would, hopefully, be sleeping. But when I looked at the clock and saw 3, I told myself ten more minutes would be okay, and then ten more, and then it was 4:15 and I knew I had to hurry.

I got dressed and put on my shoes and grabbed my hat. The rest of the stuff was already packed up by Reno's saddle in the tack room. I paused outside the back door and caught the screen in my gloved hand so it wouldn't slam behind me.

It was still dark. I pushed the gap in my gloves between the fingers down to tighten them to my hands. I turned up the collar on my coat; it was probably about 40 degrees. An owl called from out in the trees somewhere. There was no moon and I had to get to Reno's stall by memory because I couldn't see the ground at my feet yet. He was excited, and made those surprised and excited horse noises like he was chuckling about a joke we were playing on someone; but the barn was far enough from the house that even if my dad were awake and had his window open, he probably wouldn't hear us.

It was almost beautiful how badly I messed things up that morning. I had planned to go south and stop at the Foreman's house and get Tommy up to come with me, but by the time I got Reno saddled, the sky was turning pale blue in the east. There'd be people up around Three Points now, so I couldn't go that way.

The night before I went to the kitchen table where the yellow legal pad kept a kind of stratified archaeological record of my family, its curling top pages rolled back over the binding to reveal the most recent evidence of life. I folded them all back over.

Dad, I fed Mom dinner and she ate a lot. She looks really good today. See you tomorrowLove, Troy

And through and through the blue-lined pages, some in pencil, some in marker, some from him, most from me, some torn out, some just torn in half. And some, the farthest back, were in her writing, too, and I brushed my fingers across the words and felt the marks she'd left on the paper.

Dad: I'm taking Reno to camp out for a few days. You can call the Bullers' and see if Tommy is going, too. I'm going that way. Don't worry about me. I'll be back soon.

I wasn't planning on going away forever. I wasn't running away from home. I was just taking my horse out on a morning in June and I brought enough stuff with me in case I didn't come back right away.

I headed away from home north into the dark woods that covered the foothills on our upper property; past the apple orchard, Reno walking eagerly in the direction of the massive mountains above us.

Now we were alone and that was that. The moving was a lot easier than the starting.

I like how in June the day can change by 50 degrees or more; how it gets colder and colder just before sunrise; how the first light trickles like a bright fog through the trees; and how things sound and smell within that light.

By midmorning I was already sweating. I got down from my tall bay horse and took off my coat and gloves. I took a drink from my canteen and filled it again in the cold rushing water. We had been following the creek, then the river, up into the mountains. We stayed close to the water where we could, but here and there the huge slabs of granite it spilled over made it impossible to follow anything but its sound. There were big falls here, emptying into clear green pools. The pools kept plenty of trout, and I could deal with that. I had killed and cleaned other animals for food before, but I wasn't going to do that unless I really had to. I had my .22 rifle with me, but I'd always rather fish.

I wouldn't even have to do that for a while. I had some cans of tuna, some pork and beans, a small plastic box of hard boiled eggs, some crackers, and some candy bars.

I took off my hat, a black Stetson with a flattened brim, and set it down atop a rock by where Reno was sucking at the stream. It had been a Christmas gift, too big, from my mom and dad, when I was twelve and came with its brim curled tight like some kind of carnival souvenir hat. I burned my fingers working that brim over a boiling and hissing teakettle to get it where it would sit flatter. Even at twelve, I'd never wear such a hat, pointed like a TV prop. And I never wore cowboy boots, either. I wore tennis shoes in summer, and waterproof hikers in the wet and snowy months of winter. The only music I'd ever listen to on purpose was bluegrass, avoiding the stuff that was too religious, just because I liked the instruments used in it. My pants were all 501s, and I liked them loose on my waist so we always bought them big. But I didn't wear a belt, even though Gabriel's sister, Luz, gave me a nice one for my sixteenth birthday that I just kept sitting out in my room, on display like some sort of trophy, because of how beautiful I thought Luz was, and how I felt about her. And I only wore a collared shirt for school or if we went somewhere, so I was pretty much always in T-shirts, and they were pretty much always too big and dirty from something.

you disappear in those clothes that big, Troy.

While Reno drank and rested, I climbed up the rocks along the side of the falls, which dropped about twenty feet to the pool below. From here I could look down the mountain like I was standing on a church steeple. Where the trees widened out along the rocky course of the river, it looked like a picture I had seen taken from the top of St. Peter's. In the distance I could see the break in the trees, and a thin blue slice of the lake. It was after noon when I found this place. I thought it was a good place to spend the night.

I tied a rope corral between the trees after I had unsaddled Reno.

I found a flat, soft spot of ground under a thick redwood and put my pack down against it. I spread the light sleeping bag out and brought some round rocks back from the edge of the river to build a ring for my fireplace. I walked back and forth, out and in, gathering a stack of wood and pine cones. I washed my hands in the cold rush of the water and sat down on my sleeping bag cross-legged and opened my pack. I took out what food I would eat for dinner and slung the cord-tied pillowcase of food over the branch of a redwood. The sun was already down, but that was just because of the height of the granite fingers jutting up from the mountains. The sky would still have a few good hours of light in it, but the air was already cooling, so I started a fire and ate.

It was less than a day's ride, but I had never been up this high before. I looked up through the treetops, getting darker and darker against the pale sky, at those huge smooth stone fingers. From a distance — the other side of the lake — they looked like the two fingers on a saint in one of those medieval paintings.

Reno snorted.

"I hear you. I'm right here."

I took my shoes off and made a pillow with the soft part of my pack, if there was such a part. Once I stretched out and realized I would be able to sleep in this spot, I sat back up and put some more wood on the fire. My .22 was folded in my coat alongside the open zipper of my sleeping bag.

"I'm going to sleep now so be quiet."

Reno made his laugh.

* * *

I found myself dreaming.

you disappear in those clothes that big, Troy.

We were in my old room in the house we lived in, in Guadalupe, before we moved up to the lake. I must have been four years old, but in the dream I was me, sixteen. My mom was sitting on the white chair between my bed and the door. The room seemed too small, but I think it was because I was sixteen, in my old room.

The house was laid out differently, too. My mother was looking out the window, and I was standing in front of it looking at her. But the window in my dream was really narrow and tall like the window of a church, not like the one in my house, the one we'd sit by, sometimes. I didn't look out the window, but I knew there was a dog-ear cedar fence right on the other side, and another house just beyond.

I had a brother who died in an accident. I was so small; I don't really remember him anymore, although he finds his way into my dreams. His name, unspoken, Will, was always in my head, always a question about how much his passing hurt her, made her so quiet, pushed us away from that house where I was so small.

When I sat down with her by the window, Will was between us.

My brother looked beautiful, just like he was really there, and not a memory of a ten-year-old boy who had died so many years ago.

you're a cool kid, Troy.

I'm not trying to disappear, Will. I like these clothes. I don't want to be here.

And I was crying and it felt just like I was crying; and I was thinking, Am I crying while I'm sleeping? I didn't know.

She was patting the seat, wanting me to sit next to her like I always did when I was small and she wasn't sick. But then I was sitting on the edge of her bed where I was taking care of her when she was dying, and she wouldn't eat; and I was looking out the narrow pointed window from there, over the top of the graying fence, at the house, too close, on the other side.

Then I was running. I loved to run. If our school had more than sixty-five kids in the thirteen grades, we could have a track team like they did in Holmes, and I'd have been on it. I was running across a bridge, water rushing far below. A big brown dog was chasing me, biting my legs. I lifted her up as she kept biting at me, raised her over the railing of the bridge.

I want to wake up, Mom.

you disappear

I was swallowed in black, so dark I could feel it like trying to breathe in warm, thick water. Then I heard a voice, low and menacing, saying over and over, "The angel is sleeping in the woods."

I saw Gabriel Benavidez, sleeping under a tall tree. Everything was gray and dim, but I could see the glint of the little gold crucifix he always wore, burning like an ember in the fog. It was raining, but he did not move at all. And I called out, "Gabey! Gabey!"

the angel is sleeping in the woods.

* * *

I felt my face when I woke up. I wasn't crying. But in my chest it felt like I had been. I had only slept for a few minutes, but my heart was pounding like I had just run a mile. I tried to close my eyes, but they kept opening and staring, just staring.

I kept looking around, to see if someone was there, watching.

We left.

We went up the mountain.

I was so tired. I took my shoes off and tied them over Reno's saddle horn. I folded my legs back over Reno and crossed my feet to the top of his hips. I hugged my arms around his neck as he kept moving forward at a slow walk. I closed my eyes, and slept on my horse's back.

he could come down to San Diego and spend the summer with us and his cousins.

My father's sister talked, after the funeral, as though I was a foreign visitor who couldn't speak English. The food was all laid out in neat little circles on long tables. Flowers were brought in after the ceremony. Guests went from plate to plate, from arrangement to arrangement, reading the cards, no doubt measuring their own generosity against others'.

And I was sitting between Luz and her brother then.

let's go outside and get our horses.

do you want to?

I don't think he wants you to come with us, Troy.

Gabe was pointing to my father. And in that dream Luz and I were standing in a zoo, looking into the cages, all empty. Only one cage held horses, but it was so full, the horses tried to push their heads out through the bars.

I know what to get you for your next birthday, Troy. A belt. Either that or you're going to have to start eating dinner at my house more often.

I loved being at her house, even if I was afraid of her mother and her father, and why did he give me that horse?

aren't you going to eat, Troy? You disappear in clothes that big.

Then I was looking out that tall, cold window again. Past rows of graying dog-ear cedar fences that turned into headstones, growing into the gables of barns, then mountains rising up. Transforming again, the rocks became two fingers of an illuminated Christ, holding a cigarette that glowed orange and exploded into the galloping fire that leapt along the ridgetops of the dark rolling hills outside the car window as my parents drove home from the hospital the night my brother died; and me, feeling like we couldn't just drive home and leave him there, like we had forgotten something and needed to turn around and get it. I was only four years old then, but the thing I remember most about that night was seeing those flames, the orange slashes of fire, zigzagging like a rattlesnake, like Tommy's crooked smile. It was all I could see in that horrible silence, the blackness of the hills against the dimmer blackness of the sky, and the pulsing, racing fire that ran toward our house, pushed by the warm, dry winds of autumn. And the orange fire became the galloping horses: Reno, riderless, in front; Luz on her paint, Doats; and Gabriel on his silver buckskin, Dusty; and Tom on the angry and arthritic Arrow, trying to keep up, laughing wildly as the hills fell away, crumbling beneath them.

the angel is sleeping in the woods.

* * *

I jerked my hands up, to brace myself for some kind of collision. I saw stars in a black sky. I was flat on my back, lying in tall grass, shoeless. My head ached. I felt for my hat, gone. I pulled my hand back from my hair. It smelled of blood. Reno stood beside me, his nose down in the grass by my head, sniffing at me.

And I stared up at the sky, remembering the time I'd fallen from Reno as Tommy, Gabriel, and Luz watched.

damn, Stotts. Whoever taught you to ride a horse?

I don't think I learned so much about riding as falling off from this one.

are you hurt, Troy?


he's too big. I think he's too big for you, Troy. I'm going to make my daddy trade you for another one.

no, Luz, don't. I'm okay.

And she was picking up my hat, brushing it off. She knelt beside me and combed my hair back over my eyebrow with her fingers, cooling my skin, healing me. I thought it was the most perfect moment I had ever lived, and I felt Tom and Gabe's envy on me.

I'm okay, Luz. Look, he wants me to get back on.

Stottsy, that look means he's not tired of trying to kill you is all.

And Gabe laughed.

How long had I slept, or been knocked out? I was sweating on my back where I had been lying. I sat up, and pulled my knees into my chest. I stood, feebly.

I could see the blackness of the treetops cutting a jagged border around a dim sky. The sun was already rising in the east. I leaned against Reno, brushing off the bottoms of my socks, one at a time, and putting my shoes on. I wondered if I had had enough, if I should head down the mountain now and go back home.

Reno blew air through his lips.

"I'm okay, bud." I uncapped my canteen and poured a little water on my hair. I wiped it with my bare hand. Not too much blood, not much of a cut, but a good-sized lump.

"Where's my hat?" Reno nudged my chest with his nose as if trying to answer me.

"I'll tell you what. When I find it, if it's right side up, we'll go home. If it's upside down, we'll keep going up."

It was about ten feet away. Upside down.

I ate my last candy bar, giving the final bite to Reno. I wasn't tired anymore, and although my head stung a bit when I replaced my hat, I was feeling pretty good as we set off following the ridgeline as it rose to the north. Reno was eager to ride, as well.

We rode higher into the mountains until it was nearly noon, stopping once in a while to take a drink or to allow Reno to graze a bit as I just stared and thought. We had followed the stream as much as possible, and as it forked smaller and smaller, kept along those feeder streams coming from the east.


Excerpted from Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith. Copyright © 2008 Andrew Smith. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Andrew Smith lives in the mountains above Los Angeles on a ranch where he and his family keep horses. In addition to writing, he teaches high-school advance placement classes and coaches rugby. This is his first novel. His website is

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Ghost Medicine 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ghost Medicine is by far one of the best books I have ever read. I am not much of a reader but I could not put this book down. I read it in two days! I think it has a big appeal towards teenage boys because of the excitement and adventure in the story, but can still appeal to anyone of any age because of the great story line. I am definately looking forward to reading it again and recommend it to everyone I talk to. Definately a keeper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had the privilege to read the advance copy. Generally not my type of genre, however I was certainly intrigued from begining to end! I enjoyed this book and was fascinated with all the characters. I urge teens and adults to read this book. I look forward to more books from Mr. Smith.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was exelent i can not wait to buy the hardcover version thank you andrew smith for sighning my advance copy
Guest More than 1 year ago
For 30 years, I've called GHOST MEDICINE author Andrew Smith my friend. We wrote for our high school newspaper together, and we were the best kind of best friends. We lost contact for a time, but once the friendship was renewed, I asked him, 'Where is the novel?' 'What novel?' he said. GHOST MEDICINE was the eventual answer to my continued prodding. And it is a tender and serious work of fiction, as I'd secretly supposed. To begin to understand the story of 16-year old Troy Stotts before you've read the novel, picture a Gary Paulsen character on horseback. Then add a new kind of solitude -- the kind that reflects a coming of age urgency, a yearning of intensity -- with room for love and friendship, but just barely. After Troy's mother dies, he and his father (a teacher like Smith himself), slip away from each other. Grieving her death and the earlier death of Troy's brother, they find communication too painful to endure. Short scratches on a legal pad hold the essentials in place, but the gulf between them is vast and growing. Troy turns, instead to the wilds of his rural California home, his faithful horse, and two cowboy friends, Gabe and Tom. A little further removed is Gabe's sister, Luz -- a girl Troy says he's loved for as long as he can remember. Unapologetically. Smith offers in GHOST MEDICINE a story written by a real man, for real young men. But don't expect stereotypical displays of testosterone. Troy and his friends don't have all the answers -- not when they hunt for a dangerous mountain lion, not when they try to protect a herd of wild horses, not even when they come up against the town sheriff's delinquent son, Chase Rutledge, time and time again. What they do have are the true and deeply felt emotions of authentic and diverse young men, and all the complications that go with them. Set against an environment Smith has made real though vivid, sensory description, GHOST MEDICINE steers clear of bells and whistles in favor of simplicity and character. Readers who long for a book with relationship will find a friend in GHOST MEDICINE. Doubtless other friends will surface as Smith moves forward in his new and promising literary career.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For a long time I was never able to find a book that interested me. I am a 17 year old male. I enjoy reading books about the outdoors. This book is the best book i have read in a long time. I know the author personally as a coach. and he let me read this book. I can honestly say that this book is by far the best book i have read in a long time. I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN it was amazing and it never had a dull part. I loved it it was great. I recommend this book for any teenage boy it is a very fast read. it was excellent
Guest More than 1 year ago
A poignant and fast-paced narrative about teens--mostly boys--growing up: friendship, loyalty, young love, bullying, loved ones dying. Excellent concrete, sensory detail, especially of rugged terrain (lots of horse stuff) and minute but significant character actions. Found myself tearing up in spots where the emotions were extremely real. Looking forward to his next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful debut book. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy and I read the book in under 3 days. I found it a stellar story of friendship, loyalty and trust. A must read for my book club! Hauntingly beautiful.