Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What we're reading: Fairy tale crossover


I read a book last week that is billed as a young adult novel, and although it is...I think it's also a crossover for adults. Usually we talk about books that move in the other direction--an adult book that we feel would appeal to teens (in fact, there is an award, the Alex, that singles out those books)--but why be exclusive? There are just as many YA books that adults will want to read, and in fact I see many adults coming into the teen section to do so. I don't believe they will be disappointed!

The teen librarians created a book list a while back called "Fairy Tales Retold," and although this book doesn't fit exactly into that list, not being based on a specific fairy tale, it certainly fulfills the spirit of it, being a book so immersed in the fairy tale tradition.

In Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal, Jeremy Johnson Johnson (no, that's not a typo, both his parents were named Johnson) is supposedly the protagonist, but the story is not told by him. The behind-the-scenes narrator is Jacob Grimm--yes, one of the famous Brothers Grimm--and he's a ghost. He died, but he didn't move on, and at some point he discovered that there were certain people in the world who could hear him when he spoke to them, Jeremy being one of these. The fact that Jeremy goes around putting his finger to his temple and then delivering himself of odd pronouncements--knowing facts he shouldn't know, speaking languages he has never learned--doesn't exactly make him the most popular kid in his tiny home town of Never Better. Add to that a mother who deserted the family, a father who is a recluse, and a family business called the Two Book Bookstore whose only inventory is Jeremy's grandfather's two-volume autobiography, and you can see that Jeremy is doomed from the outset.

Also, Jacob Grimm believes that there is a particular doom waiting for Jeremy--that there is someone in his life masquerading as a regular person who is actually the sinister "Finder of Occasions," out to do him harm. That's why Jacob is here--to protect Jeremy from this fell influence. But Jeremy has a positive attitude and a good work ethic, and when the tale opens, he's doing just fine. Then, of course, he meets a girl, and events are set into motion so far beyond what you would expect that it carries us far into that fairy tale realm.

This was a weird little book, but I have to say that I loved it. It's set in the modern day, and yet has all the trappings and sensibilities of the dark world described by the Brothers Grimm, and the juxtaposition is so strange that it works. It's not a book for everyone, but some will greatly appreciate it. Finally, both the writing and the storytelling are beautifully executed, as evidenced by its being a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Edgar Award. Check it out!

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