Review of Far Far Away

Far Far Away
by Tom McNeal
Middle School, High School     Knopf     373 pp.
6/13     978-0-375-84972-5     $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-94972-2     $20.99     g
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89698-9     $10.99

Sprightly, assured, and original, this story blends a small-town, middle-American, twentieth-century setting with the learned realms of the Brothers Grimm and their nineteenth-century German fairy-tale collections — to compelling effect. Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives a woebegone life — abandoned by his mother; the sole caretaker of his bedridden, depressed father. But Jeremy has the rare ability to hear ghosts, and that’s how Jacob Grimm, the story’s narrator, becomes Jeremy’s mentor and guardian. With access to Jacob’s erudition and experience, Jeremy becomes a whiz at school, knows fairy tales inside and out, and has an unusual advantage in capturing the interest of Ginger Boultinghouse, whose amber eyes possess “the hue, sparkle, and…effect of a strong lager.” As Jacob tells us, “This might have made a tender tale” if not for “another player in the cast,” the Finder of Occasions, whose “tortured and malignant” purpose gives the buoyant, intelligent story a shiver of horror as dark as any of the Grimms’ tales. McNeal superbly and elegantly enfolds those stories’ essence and depth into plot, setting, and characters; archetypal figures and situations glimmer through McNeal’s small-town American cast like tantalizing clues in a novel that becomes ever darker even as it sparkles with the dignified, affectionate voice of its ghostly narrator.

From the July/August 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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