The Ghost of Mary Prairie
Jake Leeds and Mikey Savage are best friends, both 15 years old, although Mikey is a few weeks older— entitling him to subject Jake to a summer vacation rite of passage. Jake’s challenge is to sleep overnight in a local field, normally a non-event for anyone in 1961 Grady, a small Oklahoma town. Jake expects nothing more than a scary prank orchestrated by Mikey. However, the horrifying event is not of Mikey’s creation and will change Jake’s summer plans as well as his entire life. In a lazy community where few have aspirations beyond their town, Jake’s obsession gets him access to the world beyond Grady and forces him to make some adult decisions. Subplots regarding Jake’s unwed sister and his parents complicate matters as Jake tries to make sense out of what he saw on the prairie and why he is so drawn to solving the mystery.
Polisar creates a coming-of-age tale that invites the reader to return to adolescence as those young boys, obsessed with girls but not quite sure what to do with them yet, and afraid of authority, especially when it comes in the form of Blackie, Mikey’s older and sadistic policeman brother. The relationships are well developed, illustrating the dynamics between friends during the awkward transitional years between child and adult, but they do not bog down the plot. Descriptions of the volatile Oklahoma weather, where tornados spawn and the natural beauty of the land is taken for granted, blend in seamlessly.
This fast-moving novel is as satisfying as a popular mystery thriller, but with the more complex layers of literary fiction, giving one fodder for reflection and making it enjoyable to everyone who enjoys intrigue.