By Tom McNeal
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
At KidLitCon, I briefly spoke with Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom about the fact that I was struggling with my review of this book. That led me to look up her review, which is brilliant. You should read it after reading mine, so that mine won't pale so much in comparison.
I was wary of reading FAR FAR AWAY because the narrative conceit seemed so strange, almost arbitrary. It is told by the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who can only be heard by a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson. But it works. Jacob is a part of the story, which is both like and unlike the fairytales he collected. He is the one able to take action at the end of the story, the one who makes the plot work. It's an odd technique, yes, but one that makes the book better.
I have made it clear in my reviews of the Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater that I love an atmosphere of doom. FAR FAR AWAY has that in spades. Nothing really bad happens to Jeremy for a long time. I mean, he becomes an outcast and is in danger of losing his home, but nothing that it doesn't seem like your average protagonist can't escape. And then that doom so long promised is brought, by the Finder of Occasions that Jacob set out to thwart. FAR FAR AWAY is dark.
Another KidLitCon discussion was where to draw the line between middle grade and young adult. I brought up this book, because there is no sex and the violence isn't of the punching, bullets flying sort. But when FAR FAR AWAY gets intense, it is drawn out, scary, and leaves innocents helpless before a monster. For the average reader, 14 and up is the best bet for age appropriateness.
For the readers who are up for a truly scary read, FAR FAR AWAY is a hugely rewarding read. It draws disparate elements together in an interesting way, contains several satisfying emotional journeys, and is populated by characters that will grab your heart. I very much understand why it's in the running for the National Book Award.