Monday, June 30, 2014

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Laura and Tom McNeal's Crooked is one of my favorite YA books of all time. I looked back through my book reviews and was so surprised that I haven't written about it yet here. Crooked is about Amos and Clara, and their perspectives duet in a complementary back-and-forth to tell the story. But after I read Crooked, I didn't really search out any other books by Laura and Tom McNeal. I think I read Zipped, but missed Crushed. Tom McNeal writes several books on his own, without his wife Laura, and Far Far Away is his latest. I had heard about it, and had seen the striking cover on display a few times at Chapters. It was a reminder of how much I had liked Crooked and I thought I would give it a try.

Far Far Away follows young teenage protagonist Jeremy Johnson Johnson, who lives in the strange and quiet town of Never Better. He lives with his father over a bookshop opened by his grandfather, which only stocks his grandfather's autobiography. Jeremy's attic room is filled with books, especially the fairy tale stories that his mother loved. In fact, his mother's fate is straight out of a fairy tale: when she takes a bite of a fabled cake, she falls in love with the first person she sees and leaves Jeremy and his father in Never Better while she takes off to Canada. The fairy tale theme makes fitting the narrator of this novel: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who talks to Jeremy and tries to figure out what will help him to move on to where his brother is. He dedicates himself to Jeremy, helping him write tests and answer questions, and also keeping an eye out for the Finder of Occasions, a mysterious individuals who is searching for the right occasion to bring harm to Jeremy. 

For me, the tone just never felt right for this book. I've seen it described as "timeless" by several reviewers, but it was that attempt at "timelessness" that was so frustrating to me. It is very keenly set in a contemporary time and place, yet there are aspects of the language, characters, and plot that are so clearly not contemporary, and I found that those two forces continuously tug-of-warred. I like fairy tales and I like unconventional narrators, but not in the way that they were presented here. 

But reading Far Far Away reminded me of just how much I loved Crooked, and once I dig my old copy out, I'm going to give it a re-read and post a review here instead. 

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