Far Far Away
A dark, contemporary fairy tale in the tradition of Neil Gaiman.
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...
Veteran writer Tom McNeal has crafted a young adult novel at once grim(m) and hopeful, full of twists, and perfect for fans of contemporary fairy tales like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Holly Black's Doll Bones.
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
This is not my standard genre but I must say, I was thoroughly captivated this book. Like a good Grimm's tale, there are children. Children at play. And a ghost. And a Baker. It is delightful. And then it isn't. It turns grim, of course! It is scary but not too scary. That's coming from me, an absolute lightweight when it comes to scary and dark.
I listened to the Audible version narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard, who delivers a fantastic performance. His voice is grandfatherly. It's light and fun then perfectly cautious, creating suspense yet, at the same time, a sense of safety.
I was completely taken aback by how entertaining I found this tale to be and was reminded that sometimes a good old, Grimm-type fairytale is just what's needed.
About the Author
Tom was born in Santa Ana, California. His father was a native Californian who raised oranges, and his mother grew up on a farm in northwest Nebraska, where Tom spent his childhood summers. After earning a BA and a teaching credential from UC Berkeley, Tom moved to Hay Springs, Nebraska, taught high school English, drove a school bus, substituted briefly in a one-room schoolhouse, and began work on the novel Goodnight, Nebraska. Tom holds an MA in creative writing from UC Irvine and was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.
His short stories have been widely anthologized, and "What Happened to Tully" was made into a film. He is the author, with his wife, Laura, of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels published by Knopf—Crooked, Crushed, The Decoding of Lana Morris, and Zipped, and the solo author of FAR FAR AWAY (a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature). His adult titles include Goodbye, Nebraska, winner of the California Book Award, and To Be Sung Underwater, published by Little Brown in 2012 and named one of the best books of the year by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
He lives with his wife and two sons in Southern California.
Book Trailer, Inspiration, Secret Passageways, and More
Random House Kids | Published on Apr 17, 2013
Young adult veteran Tom McNeal (one half of the writing duo known as Laura & Tom McNeal) has crafted a novel at once warmhearted, compulsively readable, and altogether thrilling--and McNeal fans of their tautly told stories will not be disappointed.
Q & A with Tom McNeal
By Kate Pavao | May 29, 2013
In an article in the New York Times, you (Tom McNeal) talked about having secret doors in your house – which seems a bit like a fairy tale. Do you think this has any influence on your work or your creative process?
That inclination for the secret passages must align in some way. I don’t exactly know why. I know the history of it. The house in which I was raised had walk-in closets with incomplete walls – the walls went up like 6 or 7 feet, but didn’t go to the ceiling. My brother, sister and I would climb over those walls all the time to get into the next room.
I always knew I wanted to build a house and I always knew when I built a house I wanted a secret passage in it. When Laura and I married we finally did that. I think it all goes back to the fun of not leaving your room to go into the hallway, but sneaking into your brother or sister’s room.
We’re building a house right now and the boys are finally going to get their own rooms – and just like the other house, this will have a not-so-secret passage. They will have bookshelves that roll away or swing out. That will lead to a ladder that leads to a trap door to the attic. They are very keen on this, of course. So now they are going to get the bug too.
Source: Publisher's Weekly
More Q & A with Tom McNeal
In FAR FAR AWAY, a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson finds himself to be the outcast in a small town. Not only does he have double the same last name, he also claims to hear voices. But he can hear a voice --- the voice of Jacob Grimm, one half of the famous Brothers Grimm. With his help, Jeremy tries to save the family bookshop, survive an unsavory adventure and find his place in the world.
In this interview, Tom McNeal shares his inspiration for this unique ghost story, what he likes most about fairy tales and what he's working on next!
1. What inspired you to write FAR FAR AWAY?
I’d fallen into reading about the Grimm Brothers, and the circumstances of their story was fascinating to me --- Jacob and Wilhelm united throughout their lives, working together, Jacob living with Wilhelm even after Wilhelm became a husband and father, the awful death of Jacob’s young nephew (and namesake). Jacob outlived his younger brother and was the more somber and rigid of the two. The more I read about him, the more curmudgeonly yet sympathetic he seemed, and I began to think of him as the right conduit for the story. And so, before very long, Jacob Grimm became my ghost, and FAR FAR AWAY became his story.
2. What kind of research did you do on fairy tales, since you bring so much of Jacob Grimm's life into the story?
I read a lot of biographical and critical material about the Grimm Brothers and their tales. I took notes, marked up the tales and could’ve kept at it even longer, but, you know, sooner or later you have to start writing. The most famous Grimm scholars are Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar. She’s a professor of Germanic Languages at Harvard and her ANNOTATED BROTHERS GRIMM provides all sorts of really interesting context and biographical references in the margins of each of the tales. Tatar's writing is also beautifully lucid and engaging. I'd think that anyone at all interested in the Grimms would have a lot of fun with that book.
3. What is your favorite aspect of fairy tales?
I like the way fairy tales let you peer into your darkest fears (dark forests, wicked stepmothers) or fondest dreams (complete a quest, win the princess). In FAR FAR AWAY, there are twin quests. Jacob is trying to figure out The Thing Undone and Jeremy is trying to find his place in the real world. Though their aims are different, as the book evolves, their paths converge. What allows Jacob finally to escape the Zwischenraum --- his mentorship and affection for Jeremy --- is also what allows Jeremy to move forward in the world with a fuller idea of who he is.
4. Which fairy tale story is your favorite? Do you have a favorite fairy tale storyteller?
I think I answer this differently every time I’m asked. This time I’ll say, “Rapunzel,” because it’s not only strange and romantic and evocative, but also because the first Grimm version was basically R-rated, and then the brothers cleaned it up. This funny evolution comes up in the book, by the way.
I was attracted more to the Grimms’ collection because of the darkness in so many of their tales. And, too, because of their rough justice. In the end of a Grimm tale, goodness and generosity is generously rewarded and cruelty is cruelly punished. Very satisfying.
5. In FAR FAR AWAY, fairy tales and reality seem to blur for Jeremy Johnson Johnson: he does hear Jacob Grimm's voice, but it's not certain if there is magic in the prince cakes. Do you believe there's a certain amount of blur in real life, too?
Oh, sure. I think one reason I've always liked a good ghost story is because I don't find it completely impossible that spirits can linger. And this is probably because my own mother told me some stories about telepathic visits from the dead that she didn't believe were fictional. So you can see how it could begin to take root.
6. Jacob Grimm tries to pull Jeremy towards his studies and Ginger tries to pull him toward fun throughout the story. Which direction would you try to pull Jeremy? Which way do you usually turn towards in your life?
Toward the end of the book, Jeremy promises that he will study hard in Jacob’s absence. Jacob responds, Study, yes, but also enjoy. Of course the complement of this is, Enjoy, yes, but also study. Even for me as an adult, I find the balance between the two a difficult thing
7. What you like readers to take away after reading this book?
In the last years of their lives, Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm undertook the compilation of an authoritative German dictionary, a massive project that they could not complete. The last word that Jacob worked on before his death was frucht, or fruit, which, as Jacob points out in the book, derives from the Latin fructus: to enjoy.
8. What should readers expect to see from you next? Are you working on anything right now?
At the moment I’m working on an adult book told from the p.o.v. of a caretaker of an avocado grove. With any luck, it will be less boring than that sounds. As for another YA book, I’d love to do something more with a ghost, and have a couple of things in mind.
Book Club Chat with the Author
Streamed live on May 20, 2013Published on Apr 26, 2009
In this fun conversation with Tom McNeal, he jovially answers question from book club members and gives a glimpse into his personal and writing lives. The sound quality is a bit lacking but the interview is well worth the listen.
Source: Novel Gobblers Book Club
- Have you read other books by this author?
- Did this book remind you of any other books you've read?
- What do you think of the book cover? Does it represent the book well?
- Was the story what you expected it to be? Were you pleased or disappointed?
- If you listened to the audiobook, did you enjoy the narrator? Why or why not?
- Was the plot predictable? What were some of your predictions and were they correct?
- What did you find unique about this story?
- Were the characters believable and lovable?
- Were there any moments in the book surprised you? Did you feel suspense? Did the story hold your attention?
- Who were your favorite secondary characters?
- What did you like or dislike about this book?
- Is there a moral to this story?
- What do you imagine Prince Cakes taste like?
- Do you have any favorite quotes from the book?
- Will you look to read other books by this author?