MCNEAL, Tom. Far Far Away. 370p. Knopf. June 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84972-5; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94972-2; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89698-9. LC 2012020603.
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.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY
Read an interview with Tom McNeal on Far Far Away.