Thursday, October 24, 2013

In A Land Far, Far Away

Published:  June 11th, 2013
Far, Far Away
By: Tom McNeal
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780375849725

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...

     Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in the small town of Never Better.  But things have definitely been better for him, with only his agoraphobic Dad left to take care of him and a Mom that ran off years ago.  Oh, and there's also the fact that he can hear ghosts.  Jeremy's constant companion is Jacob Grimm, one of the famous Brothers Grimm, who didn't pass on when he died.  Instead he's spent all the time since then looking for his brother Wilhelm.  But there is evil lurking in the town of Never Better, the kind only thought to exist in fairy tales.  With the help of Ginger, the girl Jeremy likes, and Jacob Grimm, can Jeremy find a way to defeat evil, win the money to save his family's bookstore and their house - all while staying alive?
     As a bit of a slow starter, I wasn't really all that invested in things at first.  I felt like it took forever for anything to actually happen.  But when it did, it was definitely an interesting ride!  I do like the narrator being Jacob Grimm.  It gave the story an interesting, somewhat outside perspective from Jeremy, Ginger and the other main characters of the novel.  That said, when a story isn't being told in a first person perspective of the main character (for whom you're supposed to be feeling everything and getting attached to) or in third-person omniscient (which allows you to get the emotions in many characters heads, with an overall deeper view) it can cause a serious disconnect from the outcome of what will happen to the characters in the end.  And unfortunately I felt that to a pretty large extent while reading this book.  One of the things that saved it for me was probably that I kept hearing Jim Dale's voice in my head when Grimm was narrating.  The whole quirky, small town with secrets thing drew a Pushing Daisies comparison - in a really awesome way!
     Jeremy to me was the basic, run of the mill, everyman or the stock orphan character.  I did like the fact that he could talk to ghosts and further into the novel I did feel like I got to know him better.  But I still feel like he was a pretty bland character in general.  Ginger was more interesting, because she made her own fun, pulling pranks and overall running amuck through the town.  She reminded me more of a normal teen than Jeremy but she was still fairly clichéd as a character type.  I would say just for lack of character depth or development that this book belongs as a middle grade novel.  But the main plot and the identity of the evil person in Never Better alone make this far too dark to be middle grade.  It definitely falls into YA territory when it comes to that!  All I will say is that while the MCs are starving to death in a hidden room of the person's house, I was still getting over their identity.  Looking back there was foreshadowing, but I kind of passed right over it.  That twist is what made this that much more like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
     Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.  I liked what McNeal tried to do with the concept and I feel like he succeeded pretty well.  I can even get past the detached narration, because it makes sense when you think of Jacob Grimm being the ultimate storyteller who is detached himself.  At least until the very end, when he realizes what Jeremy means to him personally and his own journey.  Recommended for younger teens, late middle school or early high school aged.  Or anyone who just likes twisted fairy tales for that matter!
VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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