Title: Far Far Away
Author: Tom McNeal
Narrated by: W. Morgan Sheppard
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, Listening Library
Publication Date: date
Length: 384 pages / 10 hours 58 minutes
Genre: YA Fairy Tale/Mystery
Format: hardcover, audiobook
Source: borrowed from library/purchased from Barnes and Noble/purchased from Audible
Jeremy Johnson Johnson can hear the voices of ghosts. One ghost in particular seems to take up residence in his life: the voice of Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm. Jacob isn’t quite sure why he hasn’t passed on, but he’s narrating this tale and he’s just glad to have someone to talk to. On first sight, Jeremy’s not all that remarkable. He’s a normal boy (minus the “I head dead people” business) growing up in the town of Never Better, trying to support his family as his father deals with the grief of Jeremy’s absent mother. However, this is a fairy tale. There are dark things looming around the corner, things that exist in the peripherals of Jeremy’s life that are about to enter Jeremy’s life, putting him and his best friend in grave danger.
If you like fairy tales, this is a good choice. I, however, do not really like fantasy or fairy tales and found the novel very hard to get into. The whole thing just felt so disconnected from reality, between the quaint little “Anytown, USA” village of Never Better to the ghosts and Jeremy’s father’s Two Book Bookstore that only sells two books. The tone of the story is definitely that of a magical fairy tale, with whimsical adjectives and a sense of disconnection from reality. There’s even Prinsesstårta, little cakes with a mythology all their own.
The fairy tale aspect just wasn’t my style, but what really lowers this novel a letter grade is the unevenness of the narrative. The second half of the book was really good. I couldn’t story listening as the real conflict was revealed, danger presented itself, and the mystery elements of the story kicked in. However, the first half of the novel was extremely tedious and doesn’t go anywhere. Listening to the first half felt like homework and I had to force myself to listen each day. An entire subplot (the game show) in the first half is completely out of place, contributing nothing to the story. It is very hard to overlook the first half when considering the work as a whole.
Because of this, if you do want to tackle the story, know that it does get better. If you like fairy tales, just enjoy the ride and see where it all goes. There is an audience for this book — after all, it was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature this fall — and some critics have given nothing but the highest of praise for McNeal’s impeccable story telling. I was clearly not the intended audience for the book.
Notes on the Audio
W. Morgan Sheppard is the perfect narrator for this story. He sounds like a grandfather reading a fairy tale to his children. He sounds like Santa Claus and Jacob Grimm and has the perfect ability to do a German accent. I do recommend trying the audiobook if this seems like your kind of book.
Final Grade: C
I do recognized the literary merit here, but my rating is still a very personal one. In all honesty, this should probably be a C+, but I’m trying to stick to my simple letter grade ratings. Fans of fairy tales will enjoy the book, as will fans of mysteries and suspenseful tales. Just make sure readers can be patient and stick out the slower parts. Though this is a fairy tale-esque story, the content does get quite dark, though never graphic and the sexual content is limited to kissing. Far Far Away is definitely YA, though it may not feel like it in the first few pages.
What is your favorite fairy tale?