Far Far Away
Those who expect a adventurous romp through the supernatural when reading Tom McNeal's newest novel may find themselves disappointed, but if you're looking for a touching coming-of-age story about friendship, young romance, and the twisted world that both the wondrous and sinister inhabit, you will find a worthwhile gem in Far Far Away. Set in the quaint town of Never Better, the story follows the tale of the quizzically named Jeremy Johnson Johnson and his unusual yet endearing friendship with the ghost of Jacob Grimm (of Grimm brothers' fame), a friendship that is often the source of hardship for Jeremy, as young boys who talk to unseen spirits tend to not be the most popular among their peers. Between a nigh-catatonic father, absent mother, and the looming foreclosure of their family-bookstore-cum-home, things are far from easy. But with the friendship of the adventurous Ginger Boultinghouse and the foreboding warnings from Jacob of an unknown entity who seeks to harm Jeremy, things immediately take a turn for the interesting.
I must admit that I was initially one of the disappointed when Far Far Away revealed itself to be more grounded in reality than perhaps originally advertised, with the exception of Jacob's ghost, of course. The titular Grimm brother constitutes one of the more creative choices in the book, equal parts character and omniscient narrator. It is fitting that he is our storyteller (being one of the two who crafted so many childhood classics), but it is the evolution of his character through his own reflection and his friendship with Jeremy, and his subsequent transformation from removed observer to active participant in the book's plot that, to me, was one of its strongest points.
McNeal seems to have a major strength when writing relationships; the friendship (and blooming romance) between Jeremy and Ginger is endearing and easily relatable, as the rambunctious Ginger bit-by-bit manages to drag Jeremy out of his shell. His character arc mirrors Jacob's, though through a different mechanism, and his growth into who he is by the book's conclusion is believable and affecting. You care about him, and through the ups and downs of the story, wish for him to come back from adversity to succeed. With regard to his characters, the only weakness NcNeal seems to have is a tendency to introduce peripheral plot threads and character arcs. Though they eventually feed back into the mystery which pervades the central plot, McNeal introduces several characters who turn out only to exist for the sake of events related to them moving the plot along. Given how strong his central cast was, this was a bit of a letdown.
Between the strengths of his characters, the well-crafted nature of their personal journeys, and the fine balancing act McNeal plays between the whimsical and the lurking darkness of the book's third act, it is clear that he is crafting a modern tale much in the same tradition as the original Grimm brothers' stories. The result is a journey that is touching and poignant both in its life lessons, and in its ability to convey the roller coaster that is growing up.
- Vincent Smith
Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology
geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video
games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery.