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The Real Boy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2013

87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Oscar knows he’s different. He can’t remember where he comes from, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of magical herbs and their uses, and he just does not understand human interaction. As the apprentice to Caleb, the last magician in the magic-steeped Barrow, Oscar doesn’t need to worry about how different he is: all he needs to do is collect the herbs, prepare the charms and tinctures, do his chores, and avoid trouble. That changes when a mysterious destructive force begins obliterating anything magical, and the city’s perfect children start falling curiously ill. As Oscar and his friend Callie investigate the source of the devastation and seek to protect the Barrow and its inhabitants, they discover a deep, dark secret. And has Oscar discovered why he’s so different? Ursu (Breadcrumbs, 2011) also presents a rich world filled with natural magic and a troubling origin story of sacrifice. The puzzling and atmospheric mystery takes an empowering turn as Callie and Oscar learn to rely on the valuable strengths they already have. Perfect for the Neville Longbottoms of Harry Potter fandom. Grades 4-7. --Sarah Hunter

Review

“Anne Ursu’s (Breadcrumbs) latest novel explores what makes someone (or something) ‘real.’ The author mines the potential of magic and mystery in the story of 11-year-old Oscar, whom Master Caleb, ‘the first magician in a generation,’ plucked from the orphanage.” (Shelf Awareness (starred review))

“It’s all highly rewarding and involving, with a tight plot, resonant themes, a gripping adventure, a clearly limned fantasy landscape, and a sympathetic main character.” (The Horn Book)

“Deeply moving, with language powerful and true as a child’s voice. Grade: A.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Wholly unexpected with plot twists and turns you won’t see coming, no matter how hard you squint, Ursu’s is a book worth nabbing for your own sweet self. Grab that puppy up.” (Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production (SLJ blog))

“There is such richness to this tale about a world seemingly falling apart. All of the fairy tale allusions. But in the end, The Real Boy is such a compelling fantasy story because of the two children who, amidst the chaos of their world, can help each other so much.” (Richie's Picks)

“Anne Ursu keeps readers turning the pages until the unexpected but satisfying ending of the story…. I believe this book will be around for a long, long time.” (Anita Silvey, Children’s Book-A-Day AlmanacAnita Silvey, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac)

“Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is a fantasy in the truest, deepest sense: it illuminates the human experience by giving substance and shape to that which is otherwise intangible. Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets.” (Franny Billingsley, author of Chime)

“Anne Ursu has created a brilliant fantasy, alive with the smells and sights and sounds of a place both familiar and strange - but the true magic of The Real Boy lies in the powerful friendship that grows between Callie and Oscar. A joy to read.” (Linda Urban, author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect)

“The Real Boy is an engaging fable about what happens when people reject real life in favor of pleasure, of magic. I enjoyed it very much.” (Nancy Farmer, bestselling and multiple-award-winning author of The House of the Scorpion)
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 730L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press; First Edition edition (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062015079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062015075
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Experienced Editor VINE VOICE on December 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm not sure which I like better: the story, the characters, or the writing. I mean, you've gotta love a book that contains sentences like "The apprentice's name was Wolf, because sometimes the universe is an unsubtle place."

Wolf makes life miserable for the orphan by Oscar, who also works for the magician Caleb. Oscar is only a hand, doing menial tasks that Wolf wouldn't touch. He spends his days in the cellar of Caleb's magic shop in the Barrow, a tangle of forest circling the gleaming hilltop town of Asteri. Oscar has no social skills; he takes words literally, doesn't understand facial expressions, and cannot look people in the eye. In other words, Oscar is an unlikely hero. Yet when Caleb disappears, Wolf is killed, and the children of Asteri become ill with unexplainable symptoms, Oscar is forced to act. Fortunately he meets Callie, apprentice to the village healer (who has also disappeared). Armed with Oscar's knowledge and Callie's perceptiveness, they set out to unravel the mystery and restore their world to health.

The universe is indeed subtle, and so are the themes in this book. The story includes not only adventure and mystery but also reflections on friendship and loneliness, on altruism and greed, on honesty and deceit, on caring for the environment and on what it means to be a person. But none of these themes are intrusive or "preachy." The book is first of all a story, with characters to care about, an intriguing plot, and plenty of suspense and surprises to delight the reader. Highly recommended for middle-grades and up to adult.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. M. Martin VINE VOICE on October 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
THE REAL BOY was a magical story with a wonderful main character. Oscar is an orphan who was taken from his orphanage and installed as magician's hand. He is the one who gathers the herbs and other greenery to make the tinctures, potions, and ingredients that the magician sells. He is content living in his workroom in the basement with only cats for his friends. He loves spending time, when he is supposed to be sleeping, reading the books about plants from his master's library.

Oscar doesn't deal well with people. He gets confused because they don't say what they mean and he can't interpret facial expressions at all. When his master goes off to the continent on business and the apprentice is killed in the forest, Oscar is left to mind the shop and deal with customers. Luckily, the Healer's apprentice Callie befriends him and begins to teach him how to deal with people.

When the Healer also leaves town, Callie is on her own too. This is so not the time for sickness to come to the children of the Shining City. But the sickness does come and both Callie and Oscar need to scramble and use all their talents to try to heal the children.

This book has magic and friendship and tough decisions. And it has two really likable characters in Oscar and Callie. Readers will be glad to get to know them.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Heather on October 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Anne Ursu is a storyteller like no other. It's not just the story, or the characters, but also the words she uses that create images that make you say "yes, yes, I know how that looks," or "oh, I can picture that". It's not just the way she writes, but the words seem magical as she weaves her story. And the story is about magic and the power that word holds. "Magic". It makes me tingle whenever I read it in a book description. It holds a promise of things to come, enchanting, sparkling, potions and spells and well, magic. But, I realized, I was prepared for magic being comfortable and well, good. That's not this story.

I wondered, just from the name, if this was a Pinocchio story. And, after reading it, I can't say. It has some of the elements, but I think it's purposely ambiguous to let you make your own interpretations. Yes, definitely there is a round about nod to Pinocchio, but Anne Ursu makes it completely her own story. That's what I like about her storytelling, you don't really get a retelling. It's a complete reworking with only a touch of the original story there.

Oscar is a bit hard to attach to, he doesn't feel anything for a long time. He relates the story to us as if he were a newspaper reporter. The cats seem to bring out the most feeling in him. That and the plants. But the one feeling we see clearly is fear. He has bad dreams, nightmares and they wake him at night so that he sneaks into the library and reads. He is a cautious boy, as if he is always wanting to hide in the shadows, afraid to be seen, not allowed to be there, wherever he is. He isn't supposed to be out at night, but he waits, after his nightmare, for hours after the last footsteps, and finally goes to the library. And he reads.

Callie is the apprentice to the healer Madame Mariel.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
My two-year-old is dealing with the concept of personhood. Lately she's taken to proclaiming proudly "I'm a person!" when she has successfully mastered something. By the same token, failure to accomplish even the most mundane task is met with a dejected, "I'm not a person". This notion of personhood and what it takes to either be a person or not a person reminded me a fair amount of Anne Ursu's latest middle grade novel "The Real Boy". There aren't many children's books that dare to delve into the notion of what it means to be a "real" person. Whole hosts of kids walk through their schools looking around, wondering why they aren't like the others. There's this feeling often that maybe they were made incorrectly, or that everyone else is having fun without them because they're privy to some hitherto unknown secret. Part of what I love about Anne Ursu's latest is that it taps directly into that fear, creating a character that must use his wits to defeat not only the foes that beset him physically, but the ones in his own head that make even casual interactions a difficulty.

Oscar should be very grateful. It's not every orphan who gets selected to aid a magician as talented as Master Caleb. For years Oscar has ground herbs for Caleb, studiously avoiding the customers that come for his charms, as well as Caleb's nasty apprentice Wolf. Oscar is the kind of kid who'd rather pore over his master's old books rather than deal with the frightening conversations a day in his master's shop might entail. All that changes the day Wolf meets with an accident and Caleb starts leaving the shop more and more. A creature has been spotted causing awful havoc and the local magic workers should be the ones to take care of the problem. So why aren't they?
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