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The Real Boy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 24, 2013
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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
“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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Top Customer Reviews
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. She is a few years older than Oscar and very much not impressed by the "Shining People" of Asteri who live on the hill surrounded by white walls and protected from illness and danger because they are guarded by magic. Yet they still come down into the Barrows for little love potions, luck charms and such. Callie seems to figure Oscar out right away, not completely, but she knows enough that he isn't comfortable when he's left to mind the store in Master Caleb's absence. She, too, is left to run the healer's business in Madame's absence. She decides to strike a deal with him to show him how to run the shop, to talk to people if he will help her with her healing.
Oscar's cellar, his world, is suddenly not only bigger, but louder, brighter and now he has to share it with someone. He has to learn how to read faces, especially Callie's and he finds that not every face can be read the same. He has to learn what to do when he hurts Callie's feelings and what not to say in front of people with sick children. And yes, the people of Asteri, or their children are getting sick. They never get sick, it's just not supposed to happen. And the healer and the magician are gone. Tragedy strikes Oscar and he makes a huge discovery that sends him back to thinking there is something wrong with him as if "that" is the reason he is like this. When I read what Callie said to him, and there is a picture to go with it, it brought big fat sloppy tears to my eyes. It was so unexpected! Magic. That's Anne Ursu's writing for you.
There are a lot of secrets that are hidden from the people of The Barrows and Asteri. Maybe some remember and just chose to forget. Maybe some never knew. But the earth remembers. The magic knows. And truthfully everyone knows what must be done only no one wants to admit it. They don't want change. The ending is ambiguous as I said before, but I believe in happily ever afters so that's what I think happens. It doesn't bother me a bit that the ending doesn't say yes this happens.
I really do highly recommend this novel to anyone that enjoys Middle Grade Fiction, though I hate to limit it to Middle Grade. It's just a good story. A definite twist on the Pinnochio story that will leave you wondering to the very end.
I received a copy of this novel from Kellie at Walden Pond Press for review. This in no way influenced my review. All opinions expressed are my own.
I waned to love this fable. Oscar was a likeable character who develops as the book progresses. Callie is a feisty foil, drawing Oscar out of his shell. but the story is long and the dark portions are gruesome. The adults in the story are, for the most part, unkind, unpleasant, and selfish. The ending did not satisfy and while the advice to "fake it 'til you make it" helped Oscar navigate treacherous social situations, it is not exactly a motto to live by. There important lessons here about love, illusion and being oneself. It is readable, if flawed. Older kids might appreciate its charm while not being alienated by the more disturbing components. They would also have the wherewithal to plow through 352 pages. Not my favorite, but not bad.
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.