Far Far Away

Far Far Away

by Tom McNeal


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A National Book Award Finalist
An Edgar Award Finalist
A California Book Award Gold Medal Winner

A dark, contemporary fairy tale in the tradition of Neil Gaiman.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson hears voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of 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 Jacob can't protect Jeremy from everything. When coltish, copper-haired Ginger Boultinghouse takes a bite of a cake so delicious it’s rumored to be bewitched, she falls in love with the first person she sees: Jeremy. In any other place, this would be a turn for the better for Jeremy, but not in Never Better, where the Finder of Occasions—whose identity and evil intentions nobody knows—is watching and waiting, waiting and watching. . . And as anyone familiar with the Brothers Grimm 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. The recipient of five starred reviews, Publishers Weekly called Far Far Away "inventive and deeply poignant."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375843297
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 06/10/2014
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 151,226
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

TOM MCNEAL holds an MA in creative writing from UC Irvine and was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. He is the author, with his wife, Laura, of four young adult novels published by Knopf: Crooked, Crushed, The Decoding of Lana Morris, and Zipped. His adult titles include Goodbye, Nebraska and To Be Sung Underwater. He lives with his wife and two sons in Southern California. Visit their website at McNealBooks.com.

Read an Excerpt

Doubtless there are specters who do not respect the privacy of mortals, but I am not one of them. At day’s end, I kept Jer- emy company only until he said, “Good night, Jacob,” and then I took my leave. Sometimes, when he was feeling solitary, he would delay saying good night and we would talk before he fell to sleep. When his spirits were low, I would remind him of one of the day’s pleasant occurrences—a kind word from a teacher or the sight of a gliding nighthawk silhouetted by the moon. Such thoughts sometimes helped him slip into the sweet arms of sleep.

This night, however, Jeremy was ready for slumber. Still—I could not help myself—I reminded him that we had not finished our vocabulary study.

“Wake me early,” he said. “We’ll study then.”

Of course, I said.

“Good night, Jacob.”

Good night, Jeremy.

After retiring from Jeremy’s attic, I made my way to the belfry of the white church built by the town Lutherans. Here I passed my solitary evenings no matter the season, for while I might be- hold the beauty of snow, I was not chilled by it, and though I might hear the buzz of the summer’s mosquito, I was beyond its bite.

I stretched my vaporous legs and gazed out at the vast prairie and sky and thought my disquieting thoughts. Distractions occurred—a star might shoot by, a browsing mouse might rustle a dry leaf, an owl might swoop from a nearby tree—but my apprehensions always returned.

The thing undone.

The unknown yet unmet desire.

This riddle is my prison; I am trapped within it. The answer—the thing undone—is the door that might release me from the Zwischenraum, but if I could not find the door, how could I open it?

What could it be—this thing undone? The Deutsche Wörterbuch, the monumental dictionary that Wilhelm and I undertook to compile, was of course undone. This was my first thought. When Wilhelm died, we were on words beginning with D. At my death, the work was in its seventh volume, and yet I had gotten only to F. But this could not be the thing undone, for it was a thing I could not do. From the Zwischenraum I could not con- tinue our work on the great dictionary, or even encourage others to take it up. So it was not that.

Had Wilhelm and I been alive, we would have discussed the thing undone, approached it with reason, determined its nature, devised a method of correction. But I was alone in the Zwischenraum. I had no advice and no answers and no methods. I had only a tender, terrible yearning for my absent brother.

I wondered if the Zwischenraum was not a riddle to be solved and escaped from but, in fact, Hölle—hell itself—or die Hölle auf Erden—a living hell. And with that came the nagging fear that the maid in Steinau had been right, that Wilhelm was not here because he had passed beyond to a better place, a place I had no way of reaching.

The thing undone.

The unknown yet unmet desire.

Finally, I remembered how, one night in a meeting hall, an aged traveler regaled Wilhelm and me with tales of faraway places, the Russian steppes, the Ganges and Nile rivers, the Great Wall of China, the Canadian Yukon, the American Bad- lands, on and on, each place more fascinating than the last.

That night, as we had walked home under a cold moon, Wilhelm said, “All those marvelous places.” It was a soft, damp evening. The village butcher, passing by with his terrier, touched his hat to us. We had just turned up our lane when Wilhelm said, “We must go to these many places, Jacob, before we rest.”

But we had our tales to transcribe and then the great diction- ary to compile. One works and works, and then one morning the elm tree outside one’s study shatters into the smallest of pieces, and the room in which one sits shatters, and the niece with whom one sits shatters, too, and—blitzschnell!—in the quickest instant the life that one has taken as one’s daily due has been converted to this . . . what? . . . this place between smelling and tasting, between speaking and being heard, between living and finding peace.

But Wilhelm’s words—We must go before we rest—had given me an excuse for movement. In one of the tales, a prin- cess searching for her twelve brothers says that to find them she would travel as far as the sky is blue. It is a beautiful phrase, one that Wilhelm himself added, and it seemed now to command my own quest. I would travel as far as the sky was blue to find him. I needed no shelter, no food, no fire, no rest. However forlorn a ghost might be, he moves quickly and smoothly, without pause or break, and that was what I did.

China, Mongolia, the Yukon, on and on, all of those places Wilhelm had wanted to go, everywhere looking for Wilhelm’s genial face, but I did not find him, and as months passed and then years, my hopes grew fainter. He was not here. He had not waited for me. He had passed on, and I had not.

Decades slipped past. Wars, famines, inventions. A century, finally, and half of another.

Then one day I found myself drifting with the wind across the grassy American plains, and I spied at a distance a specter work- ing his way into the wind. He moved slowly—with the wind behind me, I covered four lengths to his one—and soon we approached each other.

I nodded at him and saw in his dull, desperate eyes my own dull desperation.

Wait, I said. To my own surprise, I said this.

I did not expect him to turn, but he turned and hovered, leaning into the wind, waiting for me to speak again.

I am looking for my Bruder Wilhelm Grimm.

The dead man stared at me for a few moments and then— how surprised I was!—his lips curled into the slightest smile, which I beheld as a man in the desert might behold water.

I know who you were, he said, and who your brother was, though I have not seen him. As a boy, I read your tales.

This news had a soothing effect on me.

For a long time, he said, I thought the Brothers Grimm wrote those fairy tales. Not until I was a grown man did I learn you had collected them from others.

From this I knew he had not been dead as long as I, for when I was alive, few would have made this mistake. Yes, I said, most of the tales came from citizens of Hesse, where we lived for a long time, so, for my brother and me, the associations were tender.

We talked for some time, though the man’s smile had now dried up and he kept peering north, into the wind, as if he had some appointment there to keep. I asked him if we might travel together in search of my brother, but he said he could not. He must travel on, against the wind.

For how long?

He looked at me with hollow eyes. Until I no longer must.

Why? I asked. Why into the wind? What for you is the thing undone?

He bent his head and said, On the answer to that question I will float away from this wretched place.

So he, too, was enduring his own form of living Hölle.

We parted company, that desperate soul and I, but a short time later I detected his voice carrying downwind to me: Hallo, hallo.

I turned and saw him at a great distance motioning me his way. He could not come with the wind, so I must go into it. It took some effort, but in time I had overtaken him.


I have remembered something that may be of interest to you. In a town some distance from here, there is a boy who can hear us. The slight smile again formed on the specter’s face. A boy who sleeps in an attic full of fairy tales.

I felt something hopeful stirring within me.

It is more even than that, the stranger said. I was told by an- other specter—a small, nervous woman from Moldova—that there was also in this town a Finder of Occasions who would bring harm to the boy.

A Finder of Occasions? I asked, and the stranger replied, Someone who lies in wait until the opportunity is afforded to do harm or wreak havoc—here he cast his ancient, unhappy eyes at me—without leaving a trace behind.

How will I know this boy? I asked. What is his name? Where will I look for him?

He lives in a bookstore. The village itself can be seen only from the corner of the eye.


It is difficult to find but, once found, you will never lose it. The stranger closed his eyes and searched his memory. There were red buttes nearby. Red-stone buildings in the town. The smell of sulfur. A bakery with wondrous scents. He sighed and squinted into the wind. I cannot tarry. I must go.

How do I locate this Finder of Occasions? I asked, but already the stranger had turned and begun to work his way into the wind.

Off I hastened, full of expectation, but this boy and his store filled with books and his attic full of tales were not easily found. From village to village I went, from house to house and shop to shop until finally—I cannot tell you how many days had gone by—I stopped one evening and stood perfectly still. I closed my eyes and let the night wind move past me as the water moves past a rock in the river. How much time slipped by in this manner I cannot say, but when I again opened my eyes, the stars had scattered and the moon had moved and off to the side, almost behind me in fact, in the thinnest sliver of vision, I could just detect a strange and faint illumination.

I hastened toward this light with uncertainty, and there, taking shape in silhouette, was an array of looming buttes, and a sign that said WELCOME TO NEVER BETTER, and along Main Street there was a bakery producing wondrous aromas, and there, in the last of the business district’s red-block buildings, was a bookstore where a boy sat alone, reading in an armchair under lamplight.

The window was open.

When I drew close and whispered, Listen, if you will, Jeremy Johnson Johnson looked up from his book, cocked his head, and said hopefully, “Mom?”

Honestly, I was sorry to disappoint him. No, I said.

Instinctively, he touched a finger to his temple. “Grandpa?”

Again there was hope in his voice. Again I was sorry to say no.

“Who are you, then?” I cannot explain the phrase I chose. A beggar, I said, echoing words from one of our tales, an ancient beggar with a broken heart. May I stay here awhile?

Well, what have I told you about this boy’s kindness?—he did not hesitate an instant. “Sure, if you want,” he said, and asked me my name.

Jacob. I pronounced it as it is pronounced: Yaw-kub.

But this was strange to the boy, so he had to repeat it. “Yawkub?”


“Your accent is different. Where are you from?”

And do you know what I said? I come from long ago and far away.

“You do?” he said, and I could hear pleasure in his voice, and truly, for the first moment in all my time in the Zwischenraum, I felt something like lightness myself.

Well, that was how it was. As rapidly as that, I stepped into Jeremy’s tale. I will not deceive you. I hoped that by protecting him from the Finder of Occasions, I might somehow achieve the thing undone, and be released at last from the Zwischenraum. I contrived a plan. Jeremy was young and clever, and I believed that the best way to protect him was to move him from this town, and I saw no better way to do this than by his going away to university. So I became not only his protector but also his teacher. And all had gone well, until . . .

On this fateful night I stared out at the thinning darkness and heard the first cock crow, with more soon joining in from one farm and another.

And what was this? Human voices? At this early hour?

Yes. Mein Gott!—down on Main Street—Sheriff Pittswort and Deputy McRaven were walking door to door, trying a particular key again and again, looking for the particular lock that it would open . . . as if in some fairy tale.

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Far Far Away 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
tpolen More than 1 year ago
This was probably not a book I'd normally read, but with all the remakes of fairy tales these days in TV and movies, I thought, "Why not try it?" Plus, there was a ghost. It was unlike anything I've ever read, and I'm glad I took a chance on this book. The plot was well-paced and took me in unexpected directions. As with fairy tales, especially Grimm, there were some very dark moments, but it was also a wonderful tale of adventure, fantasy, mystery, a little romance and comedy. The characters were odd, quirky, imperfect, and hilarious. I laughed out loud more than once and although ambivalent at first, I quickly added Ginger Boultinghouse to my list of favorite characters. She was straightforward, sometimes inappropriate, mischievous, and although misguided at times, attempts to do the right thing. The relationship between Jeremy and Jacob was heartwarming. Jacob came at a time when Jeremy very much needed someone in his life and although a ghost, Jacob acted as both a friend and paternal figure. This was an entertaining read and I would highly recommend it to 10+ age middle grade and adults who love fairy tales. This review was based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley
reececo331 More than 1 year ago
Coming to this book with the thought that it was a fractured fairy tale,I am happily surprised by the depth and breath of this book. This is not your typical fairy tale, and with the historical and emotional facts presented you will never look at fairy tales the same way again. This is a great read for the older student, who has become disillusioned with the Disney version of fairy tales. There is a surprise within the pages, that draws the readers to emotional changes. The story has a dramatic ending that would have done well for A Brothers Grim fairy tale... a great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful. Dark. Captivating. Suspenseful. Enchanting. These are just a few words to describe what Tom McNeal has created.  I absolutely love hearing and reading fairy tales, so I had to give Far Far Away a chance. It did not disappoint--at all. I loved it from the first sentence, to the last. It completely captures you and you cannot put it down. It will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning until you finish it. The suspense and mystery is wonderful and addicting.  The darkness and horror is chilling. The writing is beautiful.  You feel the need to continue reading because you want to get to the end and figure everything out. At the same though, you don't want the book to end. Then it does end, and you're so saddened that it's over, but your also happy and content with the ending you're given. It takes a good writer to be able to do that.  Far Far Away is now one of my favorite fairy tales; possibly one of my favorite books. It was a true pleasure to have the chance get lost in it. This was originally posted on my Goodreads account. 
fuzzmom More than 1 year ago
"A strange and fateful tale of a boy a girl and a ghost" That pretty much sums it up, but it is oh so much more! Jeremy just wants to be normal, have friends, live a boring, everyday life. It was bad enough that he could hear a ghost, specifically, the ghost of one of the brothers Grimm. Yes, the fairy tale Grimm. Add to all of that the fact that his father was a recluse, they owned a bookstore with only 2 books, he was the perfect target. Ginger was one of the "cool girls", you know the type, popular, pretty, top of the list. What could she possibly have in common with Jeremy? And how could both of the connect to poor shy Frank Bailey? A complex, funny, dark story fittingly filled with fairy tales!
Sheri_B1975 More than 1 year ago
Originally posted on my blog: Tangled Up In Books I received an eBook copy of this book from NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. I've been struggling all day with what to say here. Much as I struggled to get to the end of this book. To be completely honest I probably shouldn't have started it. I don't even remember putting in the request and was thrown when I received an approval email. It really isn't my type of book but I figured it was there why not give it a go? I think my biggest problem was the narration. The book is narrated by none other than Jacob Grimm. Yes one half of the infamous Brothers Grimm. Well, his ghost to be more specific. Sometimes I felt like he was just talking to hear himself speak, like it had absolutely nothing to do with the story. And the frequent bursts of German, yeah that got old fast. I found myself often having to reread things to try to make sense of them. I didn't care much for a good portion of the other characters who made appearances in the book either. Jeremy Johnson Johnson was...alright, I'm still sort of on the fence about him. He had his moments when he made me smile possibly even laugh but they were too few and far between. On the other hand, for the most part I liked Ginger Boultinghouse. She was mischievous and funny. It was extremely slow paced. Around 60%-ish it sort of took a turn for the creepy and I was hoping it would pick up, but it just didn't get any better for me. I gave it a shot but it just wasn't the right fit for me. And on that note I really don't feel it's very Middle Grade either. But maybe that's just me. Thanks to Knopf Books for Young Readers for approving me to read and review this book even though it wasn't right for me. :)
4MartyAnne More than 1 year ago
EXCEPTIONAL! This is a tale set in the town of Never Better and the catch is that it is entirely real. Despite the narrator being one of the famous Grimm Brothers, this tale is not one from his books. It is one in which he takes part, as a ghost. Jeremy Johnson Johnson, the human boy he is attached to is one of the few people who can hear the ghost speak. And when terrible, terrible things happen to the Jeremy and his friends, it is the ghost who may be the only hope they have.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She woke up. She gingerly looked at her paws. "Yes." She mewed quietly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
uMcNeal was able to keep me entertained throughout the entire story of Jeremy Johnson Johnson.  This modern fairytale is mysterious, funny, adventurous, and even a bit romantic. I found myself rooting for each character, and I even bit my nails in fear of the characters' lives. I do not read many fantasy, fairytale books, but I am very happy I pulled this one off the shelf. I loved the way Jacob told the story as a ghost, and I think he did a great job of giving us insights to every character. Jeremy's shy character mixed well with the bold and daring Ginger Boultinghouse, and I love the romantic twist McNeal created between them. The ending was more than perfect; a bittersweet ending to a bittersweet fairytale. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, and it is definitely a new favorite that I plan on reading over and over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantasic read. Wonderful twist
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a well written, good book but not the style that I wanted. I think it keeps going on and on and on on the same things and it's too long for the problem at bay.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! Five stars!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it enough that when I was finished I got out my old Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales... It kept me interested and captivated, wondering who the evil person was, what was to happen next, and found very hard to get on with my work until the last page was finished. I would recommend this without qualm to any older kids and adults (like me) who enjoy reading a good tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
thebonebreaker More than 1 year ago
What I enjoyed most about this book was McNeal's very visual writing style - extremely vivid - bringing the tale to life, directly in my head. Recommended for any fans of the Grimm Brothers (tons of history/knowledge about them in this tale), or any fans of fairy tales, in general.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"If I fretted about getting a little mud on my paws, would I be a Clan-cat?" She murmured, "I don't mind mud, and I love anything that can help me with understanding the beauty of things. Swimming, is one thing. I can use it to my advantage in cleaning, and it has a good food source. But it also represents beauty." Hawkdapple's voice lowered softly, "And climbing, I can see the riches of the forest. The way that the sky curves with the horizon. It's all made in beauty, and some don't take time to see these things. Running is another way. We don't have all this territory to sit around, but I do love basking in the sunlight." The chocolate furred feline blinked softly, resting her tail with Cheetahsun's, and taking in the sight of the sunsetting, and the pink glow illuminating on the soft white of the clouds. •|-|awkdapple•