Author: Tom McNeal
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Length: 384 pages
It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, 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 when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings...
Protagonists: So this book features three protagonists; a boy, a girl, and a ghost. Oddly enough however, this book is actually narrates by the ghost, the ghost of Jacob Grimm. Over the course of the novel each of these three characters goes under a character development of their own. First let's start off with Jeremy Johnson Johnson. Jeremy has a peculiar talent, one that caused him great distress when he was younger, he can hear the voices of ghosts and, prior to the beginning of this tale, forms a bond with the ghost of Jacob Grimm. Jeremy is a rather likable character though there are a few things that he does over the course of the novel that, regardless of his reasons, I found to be very annoying. Nevertheless, I still found him to be a strong and at times daring young hero. Then there's Ginger, Jeremy's love interest and friend throughout the story. Ginger reminded me a lot of Margo from Paper Towns, not necessarily because of the actions she takes, but her personality overall. She's not the best influence on Jeremy, but her loyalty to Jeremy far outweighs the things she gets him into. Then there's the ghost of Jacob Grimm, our narrator, he cares for Jeremy very much, like Jeremy was his own child, and promises to protect him but he can at times be a bit of a buzz kill. However, much like Ginger's flaws Jacob's are just a speck compared to his strengths.
Romance: In the beginning of the book Jacob says that this tale might be a more tender one if there was more romance, and yes it definitely would have, but the small amount of romance in a lot of ways only adds to story being told. Since this is, as best I can tell, a Middle Grade story, there isn't much romance, but there is a bit of an interesting twist in a classic romantic trope. Jeremy is involved in a love triangle, but it is not he who holds the affections of two characters, but instead it is Ginger who has another suitor in the form Jeremy's, at least at the beginning, greatest tormentor. It was interesting seeing this love triangle from the one of the sides instead of the person torn between two lovers. Though with Jacob Grimm telling the tale, it wasn't completely from one of those sides.
World-Building: This book is strange, dark, and mysterious. Taking place in a beautifully written small town called Never Better, this story in a lot of ways reads like a contemporary. With the appearance of ghosts being the paranormal thing about it. However, while it does (mostly) take place in reality there are themes of fairy tales woven throughout. It's hard for me to really pin down the genre that this book could fall under as it's not quite contemporary, due to there being ghosts, not quite paranormal, as there is a definite sense of realism, and not quite fairy-tale retelling, as while there are scenes of fairy tales re-imagined in this book, it doesn't quite have that fantastical fairy tale feel to it.
Predictability: This book was actually very hard to predict, at least for the first and last third or so. This seemed more to do with a lack of foreshadowing, or at best extremely vague and generalized foreshadowing. However I didn't mind, the story flowed how it did and while there were moments that I could see what was coming, especially toward the middle of the book, for the most part I was surprised at what I would find. However some of the characters' motivations were a bit odd or unpredictable. Such as why the antagonist does what he does, especially where Jeremy is concerned.
Ending: The ending is very tense and stressful. There is so much that goes on the last hundred pages or so and it's mind boggling crazy, in a good way though. There are a lot of twists and turns to get to the end and while not quite everything is explained as to how we get there, we nevertheless do get to a rather emotional ending. My only problem with it was that there was a lot left up in the air particularly where certain characters' motivations come from and since this is a stand alone, I'm afraid we'll never fully know.
Audiobook Notes: So I've said before that I don't usually comment on the audiobook or even give it a full section when I listen to one as it never really changes how I feel about a book and while the same applies here I do want to point out some things I noticed while listening to it. First off the audiobook starts off with this grave and dark music that lead into the almost haunting and brilliantly read narration by W. Morgan Sheppard. Since I started listening late at night/very early in the morning the beginning of the book gave me chills and made me a bit paranoid, which was a bit of fun addition to the experience. The pronunciation of the foreign words and names by the narrator are spot on. Lastly, sometimes when I'm listening to an audiobook and I have a written copy, in whatever form, and want the story to go a bit faster I'll switch over to reading instead of listening since I can read faster, there was one moment where I almost switched over but was too transfixed with the narration to go through with it.
While I loved this fairy-tale inspired story which was richly described and reminded me a bit of Lemony Snicket, it was left way too open ended to be stand alone and should there be a sequel I'll be sure to read it and adjust my rating thus, but right now I just have way too many questions for this to be the end.