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Thursday, December 12, 2013
Far Far Away
By Tom McNeal
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers 


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....

Review: Tom McNeal’s novel is a Grimm fairytale in the truest sense of the word.  No Disney story, but a quirky tale of good vs. evil in a small town setting with a very unusual narrator. The narrator in fact is the ghost of Jacob Grimm himself, unable to move on. Drifting around the world at loose ends, he finds himself in the present-day United States acting as tutor and guardian to Jeremy, a teenage boy faced with a mysterious threat. This ominous danger is not Jeremy’s only problem: he and his depressed father face eviction from their bookstore and Ginger, a popular girl from school, has finally started to notice him, dragging him on her adventures. Situations arise in which not even a ghost will be much help, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of fairytales and several languages.

My impressions of this novel will be vague, as I feel that it’s something that is best read with as few spoilers as possible. The writing is excellent: whimsical and wry in places, Jacob Grimm makes for a refreshingly different perspective, despite his frequent nagging of Jeremy. As for Jeremy himself, he’s a fairly straightforward character in that his main traits are being hardworking, honest, and kind, the traits one would associate with the hero of a Grimm tale. Ginger’s beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, has a sense of humor, and fondness for pranks. They are both likable enough, although Ginger’s lack of thought to consequences is frustrating in the beginning.

The story itself starts out like a straight contemporary novel (aside from the ghost narrator, of course) with issues such as bullying, Jeremy’s father’s depression, and the town’s rejection of anyone viewed as “different” all touched upon. In fact, it’s hard to see in what direction the narrative is going for much of the novel, something I appreciated as a novelty. In fact I only definitely clued in to what was really going on after a blatant allusion to a particular Grimm story was made. There’s a tonal shift in the second half of the novel that gives a feeling of unevenness, although the events were building all along.

That uneven tone, characters that were surprisingly passive, and some side characters that had a lot of page time for little reason all contributed to my not loving this novel, in spite of the many good qualities it has. It’s clearly written in the Grimm tradition: it contains violence and darkness, good vs. evil, and romance, with punishments and rewards distributed depending on where you fall on the good/evil spectrum. It’s maybe the use of these tropes that best explains my ambiguous feelings towards the book. The characters don’t feel like people, they lack depth. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, worth trying for anyone looking for something different from in their YA novels.

3 Stars

1 comments:

Pamela D said...

The summary sounds really good. It is unfortunate that the tone and characters weren't great.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Far Far Away
By Tom McNeal
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers 


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....

Review: Tom McNeal’s novel is a Grimm fairytale in the truest sense of the word.  No Disney story, but a quirky tale of good vs. evil in a small town setting with a very unusual narrator. The narrator in fact is the ghost of Jacob Grimm himself, unable to move on. Drifting around the world at loose ends, he finds himself in the present-day United States acting as tutor and guardian to Jeremy, a teenage boy faced with a mysterious threat. This ominous danger is not Jeremy’s only problem: he and his depressed father face eviction from their bookstore and Ginger, a popular girl from school, has finally started to notice him, dragging him on her adventures. Situations arise in which not even a ghost will be much help, despite his encyclopedic knowledge of fairytales and several languages.

My impressions of this novel will be vague, as I feel that it’s something that is best read with as few spoilers as possible. The writing is excellent: whimsical and wry in places, Jacob Grimm makes for a refreshingly different perspective, despite his frequent nagging of Jeremy. As for Jeremy himself, he’s a fairly straightforward character in that his main traits are being hardworking, honest, and kind, the traits one would associate with the hero of a Grimm tale. Ginger’s beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, has a sense of humor, and fondness for pranks. They are both likable enough, although Ginger’s lack of thought to consequences is frustrating in the beginning.

The story itself starts out like a straight contemporary novel (aside from the ghost narrator, of course) with issues such as bullying, Jeremy’s father’s depression, and the town’s rejection of anyone viewed as “different” all touched upon. In fact, it’s hard to see in what direction the narrative is going for much of the novel, something I appreciated as a novelty. In fact I only definitely clued in to what was really going on after a blatant allusion to a particular Grimm story was made. There’s a tonal shift in the second half of the novel that gives a feeling of unevenness, although the events were building all along.

That uneven tone, characters that were surprisingly passive, and some side characters that had a lot of page time for little reason all contributed to my not loving this novel, in spite of the many good qualities it has. It’s clearly written in the Grimm tradition: it contains violence and darkness, good vs. evil, and romance, with punishments and rewards distributed depending on where you fall on the good/evil spectrum. It’s maybe the use of these tropes that best explains my ambiguous feelings towards the book. The characters don’t feel like people, they lack depth. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, worth trying for anyone looking for something different from in their YA novels.

3 Stars

1 comment:

  1. The summary sounds really good. It is unfortunate that the tone and characters weren't great.

    ReplyDelete

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