Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: "Far Far Away" by Tom McNeal

"It don't matter how young you are or how old you get or how brittle your bones are or how leaky your gray cells, you are still going to flat like a happy ending."

If you're a believer in happy endings, in fairy tales, enchanted spells, ghosts that have a purpose, and evil forests, than Tom McNeal's wonderfully magical Far Far Away is a book for you. But if you can't get your head around any of these concepts, this is probably not a book you'll enjoy.

In a land called (of all things) Never Better, Jeremy Johnson Johnson (that's his real name; it's not a typo) is a smart, sensitive boy who keeps to himself. You see, Jeremy hears voices—or, more accurately, one voice—the voice of Jacob Grimm, one half of the famed fairy tale-writing Brothers Grimm. For reasons neither of them can quite understand, Jacob is tasked with protecting Jeremy from the evils that lurk in this world.

But neither Jacob nor Jeremy consider beautiful, mischievous, and athletic Ginger Boultinghouse a threat, not even after she takes a bite of a cake so delicious it's supposedly enchanted with a spell, that causes you to fall in love with the first person on whom you cast your eyes after taking a bite. Naturally, Ginger sees Jeremy first, and finds herself inexplicably enchanted, even though she doesn't believe in such magic. And while Jacob isn't happy that Ginger's attentions are keeping Jeremy from his studies, or that she is somehow convincing him to sneak around late at night and play pranks on residents of their town, Jeremy enjoys the attention—until it brings him more trouble than he bargained for.

And that's just the start of Jeremy's problems. Because in addition to his fellow townspeople suddenly shunning him, there's a small problem of his father owing so much money on their small house that they're about to lose it to the bank. Plus his father hasn't left the house in years. Despite constant attention from a sheriff's deputy determined to find Jeremy and Ginger causing trouble, the kindly baker, Sten Blix, befriends the duo when no one else will.

Jacob is a helpful and trusted companion to Jeremy (although not always a welcome one). Yet as devoted as he is to protecting his charge, Jacob is helpless as an unexpected evil in the form of the dreaded Finder of Occasions takes control of Jeremy and Ginger. It is the toughest challenge the duo—and the ghost—have ever faced. Will the duo be able to outsmart their nemesis? Can a ghost who can only be heard by Jeremy actually help save him?

Far Far Away is a creative, magical, wonderful book. It's a little bit of an anachronism, in that it feels as if it is set in a place far away and a time long ago, yet there are cars and answering machines and credit cards, and Ginger in particular acts more like a modern teenager than anything else. It was a little hard to get into at first, but once I did, I quickly devoured the rest of the story. I found Ginger's manner of speaking a little grating at times, but I really loved everything else about this book.

Predictable? Sure. But that's the beauty of fairy tales: you know where the story will probably end up, but the journey is tremendously worthwhile. And the journey to Far Far Away is definitely worthwhile.

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