Thirteen-year-old Jake Thrasher’s mother is dead, and the only clues left by the beast that killed her are a few strands of red hair and a set of plate-sized tracks. When his Army Scout father refuses to hunt the animal down, Jake takes matters into his own hands and heads into a hostile desert. Wolves, snakes, grizzlies, renegade Apache, and the ever-present threat of death are waiting for him. Will Jake find his Red Ghost? Or, will he succumb to the inherent dangers?
Jake started out into the darkness to follow her trail. He had an uneasy feeling that something was there—something barely beyond his sight—watching him and waiting for the right moment to strike. He knew lions stalked their quarry long before they attacked, knew they did it silently, and knew they killed by pouncing on an animal’s back, and biting its neck. He had seen it, had sat on a ridge with Pa, followed it winding through the rocks with his eyes, and heard the crunch of bones when it brought down a bull elk.
That was the first time Jake felt fear—honest to the bone, hands shaking, heart pounding, hair standing up on the back of the neck, fear. It was the same feeling he was having now.
Suddenly a series of deep, sharp snorts and squeals cut through the darkened space of air. There was no time to think. Jake sucked in a quick breath, gripped his rifle with both hands, and ran.
Jake saw the lion first, and it was huge—close to seven feet long with a thick tail about a third of the length of its body. It was crouched, butt up, and head down on a boulder above Storm, and ready to pounce.
Jake raised the rifle to his shoulder, and fingered the trigger. The lion studied him, and snarled. The yellowness of its eyes, the low guttering sound, was frightening, but somehow it was also beautiful—dangerously beautiful and for a second, Jake’s muscles tensed, and he froze. He looked at Storm.
The mare was wide-eyed wild, and in constant motion, bucking and kicking. She tried to rear, raised herself several feet, but the hobbles had slipped over her hooves, and she came down hard, and almost fell.
She wobbled and shook, and tried to steady herself.
Jake swallowed hard. He aimed at the lion and fired—Crack! The cat vaulted off the rock, and landed spread eagle on Storm’s back. Thick claws dug into the mare’s shoulders, and tore her flesh. She screamed and reared. His shot had missed.
He raised the rifle again, and pushed the butt into his shoulder. He aimed at the lion’s head, and fired. Almost at the same instant, Storm’s hind legs gave out, and she started to tumble backwards. Crack! The shot bounced off the rocks, and thundered down the dry wash.
The lion let out a low growl, raised its yellow eyes, and hissed at Jake.
He cocked the gun again and fired. Crack! He saw the lion’s body jerk. Storm was on her back now, and he couldn’t tell if the cat was wounded or dead. Rifle ready, he took a breath, and held it while Storm struggled to her feet. The lion dropped to the ground. Jake moved in closer. The tawny blood-stained lump of fur was motionless in the dirt. He thought it was dead, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He raised the rifle to his shoulder, took aim at the animal’s head, and fired—Crack!
Behind him, the mare started stumbling, and Jake whirled on his heels as she fell to her side.
HALL WAYS REVIEW
In Search for the Red Ghost, Author Sherry Alexander immediately establishes the loneliness and unfairness in young Jake Thrasher's life. His sister and mom are dead, his dad seems uncaring, and his aunt is cold and insensitive, placing guilt and blame on Jake for everything bad that's happened. But regardless of his father's and aunt's wishes, Jake is determined to avenge his mother's death by tracking down the unknown beast that killed his mother. It is Jake's determination to his mother's memory that drives the story along, and readers will admire how even in the most dire of circumstances, Jake is committed to righting the wrongs that he believes are his own.
Though Jake is angry with his father and even convinces himself that he doesn't really care about his "pa," as the story progresses, Jake realizes all of the survival lessons he has learned from his father. He begins to understand that his father must also care about him, or he wouldn't have taught Jake so much and given Jake the skills to survive in the desert. Readers get to see Jake experience some growth as he morphs from just thinking he is a man to actually being one - even at age thirteen.
The pace is steady as the adventures of Jake's day-to-day tracking unfold, and readers will enjoy Alexander's descriptions of the desert setting and all the creatures and landscape that inhabit it. The tension builds as Jake is closing in on the giant beast, the "Red Ghost" that killed Jake's mother, but the tension is also building because Jake is getting weaker and weaker from dehydration, exposure, and injury. Unfortunately, due to a spoiler sentence in the "Acknowledgments" at the beginning of the book, there was never any mystery to what creature is the Red Ghost, but it was still interesting to read and finally be told why this creature was in the Arizona desert. (And warning, don't read the "Message from the Author" below if you want to figure out what the beast is for yourself.)
The dialogue is natural and Alexander has written it to sound authentic to the period. She has even included a sprinkling of vocabulary words that are probably new to most readers but can be learned contextually. The book does need another editing pass to correct numerous comma errors and some typos, but the flow of the story is not likely to be impacted for most readers.
Sensitive readers need to be aware that there are some pretty graphic scenes in this book, and Alexander doesn't shy away from the brutality of the Apache raids. Of note is that the author shows not only the brutality and hatred the Apaches felt for the white settlers, but she also shows the brutality and evil acts the white settlers carried out upon the Apaches. The sometimes intense and bloody action combined with the length of the story (right around 150 pages) make this a good choice for reluctant readers and any kids around sixth or seventh grade.
Thank you to MoB Promotions for providing me an eBook in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.
Three years ago, I came across a historic picture of a camel tied to a hitching post in front of an old Southwest Army Fort. I like to believe that I am an American history buff, but I had never heard of camels in the 1800s. I had to know more, so I started researching the where, when, and whys of the photo. That research led to my non-fiction book, The Great Camel Experiment of the Old West, and it led me to a legend.
After the Civil War, the military sold the camels, but a few were released into the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. One of those camels was spotted off and on for decades. It harassed miners, cowboys, and lone riders. Then in 1883, it killed a woman drawing water from a creek. That incident led me to ask, “What if?”
What if no one knew what animal was responsible for the woman’s death? What if she had a son and he wanted revenge? And, what if the boy’s Army Scout father refused to hunt down the animal because Geronimo’s warriors were attacking ranches? The answers to these questions became Search for the Red Ghost, a tween action/adventure novel set in the desert of 1883 Arizona.
Admittedly obsessed with American and Native American history, Sherry Alexander comes by it honestly. Her ancestors were pioneers who traveled west in hopes of making a new life, and she was fascinated by the stories of their lives on the frontier.
“As a kid, I wanted to be a pioneer, so reading books was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I lead my siblings and cousins on great adventures into the forests of Scappoose, Oregon, hunted and fished with my brother, and dreamed of forging new trails to an unknown land.”
Sherry is also not one to take a dare lightly. She started writing on a dare, and her first book, published in 1987, was the result of that dare. Recently retired, Sherry now spends her days writing children’s articles and books, homeschooling her 11 year old granddaughter—a job she says is the best part about being a grandmother, sharing her new found love of books with her family and friends, and enjoying life with her husband on their ten forested acres in Southwest Washington.
*With the exception of the Hall Ways Review, all content on this post was provided by Magic of Books Promotions.