Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
(borrowed audiobook from my local library)
As the author tells us in the first paragraph of the book, this is the story of a boy, a girl and a ghost. This book is mesmerizing and haunting (no pun intended).
In the tiny town of Never Better, which is not easily found, but once found can always be found lives Jeremy Johnson Johnson. He's a 15 year old boy with far too many demands upon him. His mother left some years ago at which point his father took to his bed, leaving Jeremy to fend for the both of them. His only hope is to do well enough in school that he can escape the town and begin life anew.
Jeremy has been hearing the voices of the dead since he was a little boy and that fact, though not believed, has made him something of an outcast in the small town. He heard the voices of people close to him saying their goodbyes as they passed on, which was pretty hard on him, as I'm sure you can imagine. On the plus side, he's had a very good friend in the ghost who stays by his side, looking out for him, none other than Jacob Grimm, of the Brothers Grimm fame. Jacob has no idea why he never crossed over, but since he's found Jeremy, he's found a cause to occupy him and a boy that he genuinely cares about to keep him going while trapped in the ghost realm.
This is a flat out, old-school fairy tale, told in true Grimm fashion. Yet, it's a modern story with kids who are just like those you see every day. They aren't just good guys or bad guys. Even the bully like gang that has taunted Jeremy and Frank Bailey are just boys. Conk Crinklaw, the spoiled mayor's son and Jeremy's competitor for the lovely Ginger Boultinghouse's affections, could just be a mean bully, but he's not. No, he's not at all.
There is a real and very large, big-bad in this story. Not everyone is as they seem, but in the case of all but one character, that's a very good thing. In fact, the real bad here is reflected perfectly in the way the townspeople misunderstand and distrust poor Jeremy. The symmetry McNeal uses here is perfect.
I don't know what I expected from the book. In fact, the description on the cd case was odd and not terribly appealing. I listened anyway and was very impressed with what I found. This book is smart and sad and yes, haunting. It's also hopeful and a little scary and had the Grimm stamp all over it. I definitely hope that it finds its audience.