Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives a difficult life for a teenager, belying his town’s name, Never Better. Circumstances could be much better for Jeremy and his dad, who has not left the house since Jeremy’s mother disappeared. His grandfather bequeathed Jeremy his bookstore, where he and his dad live, but his father took out a huge loan on the store, and of course, he can’t pay it back. Jeremy works hard at odd jobs to bring in grocery money while studying diligently so that he can go to university on a scholarship. At least he has the respect and affection of all of his neighbors in his little town.
Along comes the fetching Ginger Boltinghouse with her friends, who convince Jeremy to participate in a harmless prank that goes terribly wrong. Now everyone in town is against him, and he and his dad are about to lose their home. Jeremy is so smitten with the mischievous Ginger that he makes several bad choices, even though his ghost keeps warning him against her. Oh, didn’t I mention that he had a ghost? Not just any specter, but the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the famous brothers who wrote all of those dark fairy tales. Jacob is stuck here in the Zwischenraum, the in-between space, until he can do his good deed, which is to protect Jeremy from the Finder of Occasions, a person who will use any event to visit evil upon his unsuspecting victims.
So skillfully has Mr. McNeal written this novel that the reader travels right along with this sad but hopeful tale as if it were realistic fiction, in spite of the ghost whispering in Jeremy’s ear. Looking back, I can see the foreshadowing and red herrings, but when the plot took a shocking twist, I was completely caught off guard. The last 150 pages of the book are terrifying, and I could not put it down. All I will say is that this is a Grimm tale, after all.
Far Far Away is written for a younger audience than our previous award-list entries. The protagonist is fifteen, but 10-year-olds who don’t scare easily should do fine with it. The style and language put it in the Newbery category, but since the main characters are teens, it could also vie for the Printz. Literary excellence, check. Great plot, check. Character development, check. Tom McNeal is also an adult author, and has written several teen books with his wife, Laura McNeal, a National Book Award winner. Definitely one to watch. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.