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Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Far Far Away

by Tom McNeal

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"What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost," begins our fairy tale, the story of Jeremy Johnson Johnson, his friend Ginger, and the ghost of Jacob Grimm whom Jeremy can hear. Jacob is, in fact, our narrator and he tells the story of Jeremy, a young boy whose mother left and whose father keeps to his room in grief, whose grandfather gave him a bookstore but the bank is about to take it away.

This book was a National Book Award Finalist, and a finalist for this year's Edgar Award, as well as one of the books in School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books. With all that critical acclaim, and the fact that I love fairy tale retellings and young adult fantasy, I really expected to love this book. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me. Character names like Jeremy Johnson Johnson, the quirky Two-Book Bookstore (the only book for sale is the two volumes of Jeremy's grandfather's memoirs), a ghost who is persuading fifteen-year-old Jeremy to study hard and read Beowulf, a town named Never Better... maybe I felt like it tried to hard, or maybe one quirk too many had me analyzing instead of sinking into the story. The kids are fifteen but generally act younger. The evil, when it finally showed up, was so over-the-top that it wasn't all that scary. The more I think about it, the more lukewarm I am. ( )
  bell7 | Mar 31, 2014 |
"What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy possessed uncommon qualities, the girl was winsome and daring, and the ancient ghost . . . well, let it only be said that his intentions were good."

So begins an unusual and intriguing story told as both a timeless and modern-day fairy tale -- a real fairy tale, mind you, not the Disney kind -- and narrated by the aforementioned ghost, who happens to be none other than Jacob Grimm. Jacob finds himself in the Zwischenraum -- not passed on like most departed souls, but not in life either: he exists in the space between, whence he must remain until he can determine what is undone, unfinished. He meets Jeremy Johnson Johnson, a lonely boy who can hear him, and determines to befriend and protect him. The friendship between Jacob and Jeremy is touching and lovely, with Jacob coaching and tutoring him. Jacob recognizes that Jeremy's only escape from this small town, from the sadness that is his motherless and nearly fatherless home, from the isolation Jeremy experiences from being odd and different, will be through scholarship. Things are looking up for Jeremy as the school year ends -- he befriends the beautiful and slightly reckless Ginger Boultinghouse, and has the potential to win big (and save his home) by appearing on a televised game show. When Ginger persuades him to join her friends in some teenage mischief, things take a terrible turn for Jeremy, as the fairy-tale evil bubbling and seething just below the surface emerges to reveal real fairy tale evil.

I enjoyed the book very much, and certainly found it to be a page-turner, though I can't say it will end up on a "best of" list at year's end. I loved how closely entwined were actual fairy tales as well as fairy tale elements. These traditional stories, collected by the Brothers Grimm and retold countless times emerged here as mirrors, as models, as warnings, and as quintessentially human life-sustaining stories. Well done.
  AMQS | Mar 20, 2014 |
This statement on Amazon says it all: "A dark, contemporary fairy tale in the tradition of Neil Gaiman." Something told me as I started reading the book, that Grimm's fairy tales often have very evil antagonists but this one floored me. The under current of stories about kids gone missing in neighboring towns adds to the foreshadowing. Be careful who you suggest this book to. SLJ say 6th grade and up. That seems a little young for me. It took me a while to get into the book but once I was hooked I chewed my nails off this the end. ( )
  bookwoman137 | Mar 12, 2014 |
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—McNeal spins a tale fluctuating from whimsy to macabre in such a beguiling voice that-like Hansel and Gretel-readers won't realize they're enmeshed in his dangerous seduction until it's too late. The book is narrated by the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, that one), unhappily caught in the Zwischenraum (a plane of existence between life and death). For now, he is the nearly constant companion of Jeremy Johnson Johnson, who can hear Grimm's voice when he presses a finger to his right temple. He's also heard the voices of his dying mother and grandfather. This ability has made him an object of derision for many in his little town, though-thrillingly-not to the electrifyingly vibrant Ginger Boultinghouse, who is more than happy to lure Jeremy into more trouble than he's ever encountered. Grimm tries to be the voice of reason-to keep Jeremy safe-but few things are as they initially seem in the town of Never Better and it's difficult to know the difference between hazard and opportunity. It's also hard to know the good folk from the bad and that's because so many of McNeal's characters are complex and have conflicted motivations. When is a bully not so bad? Where's the line between justifiable grief and parental neglect? Can an older man love a teenager in a way that's not creepy? How do stories nourish us? At what point do they stifle us? All these questions, and many more, are raised in this folklore-inflected, adventurous, romantic fantasy. Whether readers connect more deeply with the suspense, the magical elements, or the gloriously improbable love story, they will come away with a lingering taste of enchantment ( )
  EBurggraf | Mar 11, 2014 |
Great for learning how to write scary stories, and has some great roots for writing a fairytale.
  Shelby08 | Feb 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Far Far Away captures the wit of "Doctor Who," the magical appeal of Narnia and Hogwarts, the no-nonsense approach to writing about nonsensical things previously mastered by Jasper Fforde, the enchantment of timeless fairy tales, and the harsh realities of the real world … all in one pretty, delightful, 384-page package.

Have I mentioned that I adored this book?
added by zhejw | editThe Examiner, Sara Gundell (Dec 13, 2013)
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For Sam and Hank
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What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost.
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Book description
When Jeremy Johnson Johnson's strange ability to speak to the ghost of Jacob Grimm draws the interest of his classmate, Ginger Boltinghouse, the two find themselves at the center of a series of disappearances in their hometown.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375849726, Hardcover)

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings. . . 

   Young adult veteran Tom McNeal (one half of the writing duo known as Laura & Tom McNeal) has crafted a novel at once warmhearted, compulsively readable, and altogether thrilling--and McNeal fans of their tautly told stories will not be disappointed.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:31 -0400)

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"When Jeremy Johnson Johnson's strange ability to speak to the ghost of Jacob Grimm draws the interest of his classmate, Ginger Boltinghouse, the two find themselves at the center of a series of disappearances in their hometown"--

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