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The Last Ghost Dancer Reviews

The Last Ghost Dancer has the feel of an instant classic. A mystical coming of age exploration of the enduring qualities of friendship, love, loyalty and faith. Unforgettable and highly recommended.”

—Ed Schultz, Host of MSNBC's Ed Show and the national Ed Schultz Radio Show


The Last Ghost Dancer is a cleverly and skillfully told tale that evokes laughter and understanding. Not since The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry has a story of small town life reflected the universal foibles and depths of human nature.”

 —Joseph M. Marshall III, author of The Lakota Way


"The Last Ghost Dancer" is one of those stories that grab the reader by the heart and never let go. Opening his story in Pale Butte, S.D., during the summer of 1977, author Bender introduces Bones, a grease monkey at the small town's only gas station. But Bones is also a man of insight who knows that as peaceful as his home town seems, appearances can be deceiving. Ultimately, it is a turn of events that some in town claim to be a miracle that gives Tony Bender's "The Last Ghost Dancer" the edge. It's a first-rate story.

—Denver Post (Second Review)

There’s nothing quite so satisfying in the summer reading category than a coming-of-age novel that takes place over the course of a long, hot summer. In “The Last Ghost Dancer,” journalist Tony Bender creates a sense of place both real and haunting. The book is set in the late ’70s, but the time doesn’t seem to matter as much as the place... Located in South Dakota, “The Last Ghost Dancer” unfolds with a sense of time drawn out slow and easy, under a vast, cloudless prairie sky. The narrative voice belongs to Bones, a small town boy on his way to nowhere. Working as a mechanic in the one pony town of Pale Butte, Bones has a best friend named Woof, a mentor named Joe Big Cloud and a honey of a red-haired girlfriend called Maya. Bones, Woof and Joe seem to be permanent fixtures in the small timeless town, but Maya is destined for something else. She’s spending her last summer before college with her grandparents in Pale Butte, and of all the boys, she chooses Bones to be her summer beau. Bones, Maya and Woof form an inseparable trio and often seek out the wisdom of enigmatic Joe Big Cloud, who is capable of mysterious healing powers and knows far more than he’s telling. The creep in the story is Spook, a menacing presence if ever there were one. Pets end up damaged or dead when Spook is near, and the local sheriff can’t seem to make any charges stick because Spook’s daddy has a deep bank account and complaints get bought off as soon as they’re made. In the way of the best coming-of-age novels, there is no high dramatic climax because every moment is weighted and magical. Bender is a bit of a poet, and the novel is not just well-crafted, it is beautifully written.

—Cynthia Gregory, Clayton Pioneer (CA)

 Life changed in Pale Butte, South Dakota, during the summer of 1977. Bones, an old man now, recounts his days fixing cars, writing articles for the town paper, spending his nights hanging around with his two best friends and the girl he loved enough to let go. That summer Pale Butte was haunted by Spook, the town sociopath, and graced by Joe Big Cloud, part-time handyman and full-time mystic and miracle worker. This immensely readable novel is humorous, thoughtful, and surprisingly entertaining for a tale of spiritual awakening. The opening chapters present a sleepy, slice-of-life portrait of Bones and his community—the calm before the storm. Bender is careful not to let Bones' matter-of-fact dry wit downplay the dramatic foreshadowings and stirring revelations that drive the fast-moving latter half of the narrative. The plot pants onward at a shocking pace toward a surprise ending that offers both heartbreak and reassurance that life can continue on as it's intended to do.

—Courtney Jones, Booklist


I’m not that familiar with Bender’s career, but after reading two of his books I’ve come to appreciate him as an exceptional writer of fiction. But with The Last Ghost Dancer Bender really seems to have found a voice of his own. I started the book, which I had downloaded for my Kindle, yesterday morning while killing some time and found myself staying up far too late last night to finish it. It was a real-page turner. Funny. Dark. Poignant. The Last Ghost Dancer is a much more serious work (than If Every Month Were June) but without sacrificing the charm of Bender’s humor. The story revolves around a group of friends and their small-town antics during one memorable summer in the 1970’s. And I really don’t want to give away too much more than that. You can read a more thorough description of the book here on Bender’s website, but let me put it this way: There’s a baptism scene you won’t want to miss. It had me laughing out loud. If you’re looking for a good piece of fiction, consider this one with my hearty endorsement.

—Rob Port,


Bender creates an entire world in miniature in this account of a summer from a more innocent time. His hero, Bones, has a distinct and enchanting voice, reminding us that life is fullest in both sorrow and joy, and that despite the conventional wisdom, the old days had many of the same issues we have today. Fans of Louise Erdrich, Ursula Hegi, Barbara Kingsolver and the like will enjoy this one.



The book is very funny at times, heartwarming at times, heart-breaking at other times, and always a good read. You don't have to believe in the religious/philosophical messages underlying the story in order to enjoy the book. The writing style is so amusing that I have offered to buy Bender's other novel "If Every Month Were June" for my local library. That novel received 5 stars from 8 of 8 reviewers so how bad can it be?



Set in Pale Butte, N.D., "The Last Ghost Dancer" is an old man's recollection told from the future with messages telling us not only are we aware of only a fraction of what we see, but that doubt will continue to make us uncomfortable until we open our mind to see the truth. Joe, a Lakota medicine man, and his friends discover truth has many pieces and its share of perils. "The Last Ghost Dancer" is a thoughtful examination of difficult times lived by what the outside world would consider to be ordinary people.

—Denver Post


If Every Month Were June Reviews 

There's a line between appreciating a tasteful picture of a swimsuit calendar model and driving across the country to meet her. "If Every Month Were June: A Comedic Quest for True Love" follows Hooter Pridley as he crosses the line. Smitten with Trixie Foxalot, he begins to drive to Los Angeles and meets an array of characters. Laugh out loud funny, "If Every Month Were June" is recommended for anyone looking for a novel that will be too humorous to put down.”

James Cox, Library Bookwatch

 “With a barebones, candid style, South Dakota humorist Tony Bender's first novel follows mechanic Hooter Pridley from Sterling, Colorado, to Los Angeles (and back) in search of his calender-girl obsession, Trixie Foxalot. Along the way, Pridley becomes one of the most successful shrinks in Hollywood by simply repeating his grandpa's adages ("You just can't search for gold where the light's good...") in place of more "scholarly" advice. Once he achieves his ultimate goal--getting the girl--Pridley's success unravels like a cheap bikini, resulting in a mangled '70 Plymouth Barracuda and a lesson learned. The laugh-out-loud humor and wanton musings in this 215-page whirlwind tour of naivete and dumb luck make for an entertaining pool read.”

— Anne Vickman, 5280 Magazine


"It begins like a chick flick for men and then turns into something I can only compare to Harold Robbins "Even Cowgirls Get the Blue." I loved it. Hated to see it end. My husband tells people, 'I heard Sue laughing from the bedroom while reading "If Every Month Were June. And, she was in there all by herself.'"

—Sue Balcom, Mandan News


"Hooter Pridley (nice name) finds out about himself, and women, and life in this page turner. I couldn't put it down, which had me laughing out loud at the laundromat. (Fortunately, i don't embarrass easily.) Superior whimsy followed by Marx Brothers level slapstick. The story whips you along, but I found myself re-reading paragraphs because they were too enjoyable to only read once. One would guess I recommend this book. One would be right."

Dave Bedini—Amazon Review