I wasn’t expecting to be captivated by Far Far Away. In fact, when I started it, I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. Cut to a few days later, and I was a devoted reader, in love with the writing, the story and the characters, and hoping that it would find a group of readers who would be just as smitten with the book as I was. I read it last December, but it made such an impression that I put it on my Picks of 2013, and I hope that this post convinces you to give it a try.
In the small town of Never Better, where the bakery makes enchanted Prince Cakes that can make you fall in love, there lives a strange young man named Jeremy Johnson Johnson, who has the odd talent of being able to speak to ghosts. He’s had this ability for a very long time, but speaking to invisible people has made Jeremy a bit of a loner, particularly because he has one ghost who is with him almost all of the time. It is that ghost who narrates the story and who is as much of an important character as Jeremy Johnson Johnson; the ghost is Jacob Grimm, one of the famous Grimm Brothers. Jeremy met Jacob when he was a young child. Jacob stayed with Jeremy in part because the boy is the only living person he can communicate with, and because Jacob is determined to save Jeremy from a mysterious menace that he believes threatens his friend: the Finder of Occasions. Jacob is convinced that if he can help Jeremy graduate with excellent grades, the boy will head off to college, far away from the threat that lurks back home. Everything was going according to plan until Jeremy became friends with Ginger Boltinghouse, who changed everything.
The novel is a fantastical blend of adventure and mystery, and it is a really amazing story. I loved learning about Jeremy’s mother, who left her husband and her son rather suddenly after eating one of the baker’s famed enchanted Prince Cakes (legend has it that whatever living thing you look upon when taking your first bite of the cake will steal your heart). I was eager to read more about poor Jeremy’s father, who never got over his wife’s sudden departure and so has lived as a recluse ever since. And while Jacob narrates all the things that happen to Jeremy and Ginger, I also loved learning about the ghost’s life before and after death. Sara Gundell wrote “prepare to be ruined by Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, an utterly stunning novel that is destined to become a classic for all ages” and I completely agree. The story has a delightful build, was fun to read and created such a unique and wonderful world, one you won’t soon forget.
We have Far Far Away in the YA section, but it is completely appropriate for stronger middle grade readers. The magic in the story and the importance of fairy tales to the plot also makes it appealing to a younger audience, while the strong writing and the great characterization, as well as the focus on growing up and standing up for yourself, also make it a great title for teen readers. If you decide to read it, I hope you’ll be as swept up in the story and the characters as I was. I definitely recommend this unique and delightful book.