Thursday, September 19, 2013

Far Far Away

Far Far Away
by: Tom McNeal
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Audience: 14+

Jeremy Johnson Johnson can hear voices. One voice in particular, that of Jacob Grimm, is a constant companion. Jeremy usually heeds the advice of Jacob - study, study, study - but when Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy and dares him to play a trick on the town baker, Jeremy ignores Jacob's warnings and does what Ginger asks. Who knew that a harmless prank would result in the whole village of Never Better shunning Jeremy?

This means bad things for Jeremy who was planning on doing yard work for people in town so he could raise money to save the Two-Book Bookstore where he and his dad live. Ever since Jeremy's mom abandoned them, his dad has never been the same - choosing to sit in his sweats and watch TV instead of keeping the bookstore open. Jeremy is desperate to raise money, which is why he agrees to try out for the nationally acclaimed TV quiz show as an aficionado on Grimm's Fairy Tales - all thanks to the knowledge of Jacob Grimm.

While Jeremy and Jacob are busy preparing for the quiz show neither of them pays much attention to all of the children and teens going missing. They also fail to recognize the true character of one townsperson who is just waiting to take Jeremy to a place far, far away.

How do I describe this book to you?

Let me tell you my reaction to it. It was slow going at first, but I liked the writing and I was interested in the blend of modern day with fairy tale. I was intrigued by the village of Never Better because it is supposed to be a made-up, modern town in America but also gave the impression of an ancient, European one. This book picked up in pace once I started to piece together who the villain was I could not put this book down. Seriously. I was extremely disturbed by the scenes of the teens in captivity, but I was so morbidly fascinated with where it would go, especially because so much of the rest of the story subtly felt like a fairy tale.

As the reader, we are told fairly early on that the reason Jacob has befriended Jeremy is because the "Finder of Occasions" is out to get Jeremy. We do not know who this person is, so for the first 3/4 of the book we are suspicious of most people, except for the one that it actually is. Wait, was that just me? The author does a good job of distracting the reader from the subtle fairy-taleness of the story with the drama of Jeremy working to keep the bookstore from being sold and trying to get on a quiz game show. All of that that just makes the lead up to the reveal all that more suspenseful and fun to read.

I loved the character development of Jacob Grimm. You would think that a ghost would not experience so much change, rather, I assumed that ghosts are fixed both in time and character. Not so with Jacob. While he is looking out for Jeremy he is also dealing with the ghosts of his own past - mistakes that he made, wounds that have not or will not heal - and fighting with the lingering question of why he is in this in-between space. He is here but not here. He figures that he must have unfinished business, but what is it? I love that it is Jeremy who helps him heal from past wounds and move on.

There has been talk of this one being a Newbery contender; however, since it is most definitely for the upper level of the Newbery audience (14), I am not sure if it will win. Granted, age is not the only qualifier for the award, but it has to be taken into account. I think the writing is solid and the story original, so I would not be too surprised to see it come away with something. An honor perhaps? Time will tell.

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