Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

By Ekta R. Garg

June 11, 2013

Rated: Bookmark it!

A teenage boy shares an extraordinary relationship with a ghost and slowly develops a special friendship with a girl in his class.  The two teens become one another’s confidantes and partners-in-crime.  When the bank threatens to evict the boy and his widower father for lack of payment, the girl and the boy try to figure out a way to save the house.  What becomes a noble goal turns into a modern-day fairy tale in Tom McNeal’s whimsical, charming Far Far Away aimed at middle-grade readers.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson and his father live in Never Better, a place representing typical American small-town life.  Everyone knows everything about everyone, and everyone takes a keen interest in the business of others.  So the fact that Jeremy can keep a big secret represents an amazing feat.  No one knows that Jeremy can hear the voice of long-dead Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm.

Jacob narrates the story in first person and slowly reveals how he traversed the world from Germany after his death looking for his brother’s spirit.  Jacob travels for decades asking other spirits about Wilhelm, and eventually he meets one that says he has heard of a special boy.  A boy who believes in fairy tales and who lives in a small town—a village—that “can be seen only from the corner of the eye.”  A boy who can hear those who exist in the spirit world.  But the Finder of Occasions also lives in this town and will eventually harm the boy if no one can stop him.  Jacob decides to help this boy; maybe helping the boy will somehow lead him to other spirits that can lead him to Wilhelm.

He becomes Jeremy’s friend and tutor but when Ginger Boultinghouse starts showing an interest in Jeremy, Jacob becomes skeptical.  An innocent prank turns into big news, solidifying Jacob’s suspicion.  Ginger, he surmises, can’t bring anything positive to Jeremy’s life.  Despite Jacob’s misgivings, however, Ginger proves herself as a true friend to Jeremy and even tries to help him raise enough money to pay the bank for his home.

Their friendship doesn’t come without its challenges, however.  Given Jeremy’s status as somewhat of an outcast, people begin taunting Ginger too—all except the town baker, Swedish immigrant Sten Blix.  Jeremy and Ginger begin helping Sten in his bakery to pay off a debt.  But when the work at the bakery turns into something beyond their imaginations, Jeremy and Ginger—and Jacob—learn the true value and endurance of friendship.

Given that he has cast as one of his protagonists a master of fairy tales, author McNeal has paid due homage to the Brothers Grimm.  Readers get cues that the story occurs in the present day by mention of things like Grape Nuts, and yet McNeal has dispensed with modern conveniences like cell phones and the Internet to add to the fanciful quality of the book.  Experts say that Disney’s adaptations of the fairy tales for its films show audiences a highly sanitized version of the stories the Brothers Grimm wrote, and McNeal follows suit.  The tension and drama in Far Far Away will keep readers up late into the night by matching the pace of any thriller currently on the bestseller lists, and yet McNeal never forgets that he is sharing with his readers a fairy tale in its own right.

I highly recommend Far Far Away for anyone in its intended age group and older.  Younger readers might get scared at certain points in the book, but readers in the middle grade audience and adults will definitely enjoy it.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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