A young boy named Oscar sits in a small room in a shop cellar, mortar and pestle in hand, transforming leaves into powders to be sold by the magician who employs him. ‘Employs’ is not exactly the most appropriate way to describe Oscar’s situation, but Master Caleb chose him from the Children’s Home to serve as a helper to his apprentice, and so Oscar lives in the cellar with a group of cats who he considers his only true companions in the world. Though Wolf, the apprentice, treats him with disdain and outright cruelty, Oscar is content with his daily routine in this role and his knowledge of plants and their purposes is impressive. Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy brings readers into a world unlike any other, a city and its outlying forest both part of a long and rich history of magic, and for fans of middle grade fiction, this enchanting novel will most definitely not disappoint.
In Asteri, the shining city on the hilltop, all is always well. The stone walls that surround the city shimmer with magic, and the people within the walls live happy, perfect lives. Just outside of the city is the Barrow, where the “regular” people live, though the magic is cultivated there. The “Shining People” come down to the Barrow to buy the potions and charms that Master Caleb sells, and Oscar procures the plants used in the shop from the forest whose very soil hums with magic. Oscar knows well the history of the island, with all of its dark chapters, as do all residents, so when strange things begin happening to the children of the Shining People, as well as troubles for the people of the Barrow, Oscar soon questions the very history they all have come to accept as fact.
Though there is action to help propel the story, the power of this narrative lies in the development of incredible characters like Oscar, and Callie, the apprentice to the Barrow’s healer who comes to befriend Oscar when their world is turned upside down. They gradually come into focus as the story goes on, and I have to say that I was completely enamored with Oscar for his inherent goodness along with his persevering spirit in the face of self-doubt and maltreatment.
As with Anne Ursu’s previous middle grade novel Breadcrumbs, I found this story to be all sorts of perfect. Beyond her impeccable character development, Ursu has created another magical world full of mystery and wonder, and readers will undoubtedly be engrossed along with Oscar in trying to figure out what is happening in the city of Asteri. I’m highly recommending this book for readers of all ages who enjoy a bit of magic, and parents would be doing their children a huge favor by putting this one on their children’s shelves. The Real Boy is a delightfully imaginative tale of magic and humanity, and the character of Oscar is wholly lovable.
I’m not the only one giving high praise to The Real Boy, for it was recently named on the 2013 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature! Congratulations on that well-deserved accolade, Anne Ursu!
It gives me great pleasure to offer a hardcover copy of The Real Boy, signed by the author Anne Ursu, in today’s giveaway. Just start off by entering your email address in the Giveaway Tools widget below, then follow the directions to log your entries.
The winners of Sea Creatures and How to Prepare a Standout College Application have been announced and notified. Check out the widget on the original posts to see if you won, then respond to the email with your shipping address.