Ursu, Anne. Real Boy, The. Walden Pond Press (HarperCollinsChildrens), 2013. 341p. $16.99. 978-0-06-201507-5.
Cover Appeal: Fantasy lovers, cat lovers, artistic students. The cover begs to be studied: What's over the door? What's Oscar doing?
Immediately After: "PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS, itty bitty living space." (Genie, Aladdin)
We all have things we are good at and things we aren't. And if at all possible, we avoid those things we aren't good at or don't like to do. Unfortunately for Oscar, there's no escaping the people.
Oscar, the 11-year-old hand for the magician Caleb, is very good with cats, small spaces, and plants. The plants speak to him, in a way people cannot. For the past five years, he's been responsible for picking and mixing the plants together to provide the magic needed for Master Caleb and his apprentice, Wolf. And everything is fine, as long as he get's to stay out of the shop, away from everyone.
But, Master Caleb has to go on a trip and Wolf disappears. Now Caleb has to keep the shop running. And that is bad enough. But something was odd. About Oscar. About Caleb's leaving. About the Shining People on the hill. About everything he once believed.
"Once upon a time, magic flourished on all of Aletheia. And for centuries, legendary wizards worked the island's magic... Everyone knew the story." (13)
It too me until this paragraph to get into The Real Boy. Something about the writing style: the word choice, the imagery, the sense that I was being spoken to personally, all came together to transport me back in time. I felt like I was in The Barrow. In the time of good old-fashioned magic with apprentices, sorcerers, poulitices and hidden charms. It reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Demon King by Cinda Chima and brings to mind another of Ursu's books, Breadcrumbs.
The beauty continues in the interactions between Oscar and Callie. Callie is mostly sure of herself and Caleb is mostly not. He has no censor, and when forced to talk to people, his thoughts pop out of his mind and into his mouth. Callie, while careful what she says, uses her facial expressions, and the times when she can talk to Caleb separately, to get her point across.
I thought I knew what The Real Boy was about. Anne Ursu set me up beautifully, and then she left me hanging in the end. I'm still wondering what's going on with Callie and Oscar and have gone back and read the ending chapters over again. As a matter of fact, if I had more time, I would read the entire book again! #winterbreakideas
You have the strange sickness affecting the "Shining People's" children; these mysterious and weird ailments that nothing seems to cure. You also have Caleb's frequent trips into the continent as well as Madame Mariel's, the healer and Callie's master, absence. Underneath it all, you have both Callie and Oscar trying to figure out their place in the land, as assistants, who they are, and what they truly believe.
Oscar is desperately trying to keep the shop running while Caleb's gone but he not only can't look a person in the eye, he doesn't know how to frame his responses in a non-offending manner. Callie has the gift of communication but doesn't really know all the properties of plants in order to provide the right healing for Madame Mariel's patients.
Even though Oscar is afraid and lacks confidence when he talks to people, even though he'd rather stay in his pantry and work with his plants, he forces himself to work in the shop each day. He continually steps outside his comfort zone, with no hint of a personal incentive. It's just who he is, even though he can't see it.
"The apprentice's name was Wolf, because sometimes the universe is an unsubtle place." (3)
"He half expected a shelf to fall on Wolf's head. It didn't. Shelves never fell on Wolf's head when Oscar wanted them to." (10)
"These hours in the library were stolen things, and he had to be as careful as a thief about how he chose to spend them." (76)
"She promised, and so Oscar believed her." (104) <--profound in it's simplicity.
Can reading two of an author's books make you a fan? Because I feel like a fan. I don't want to say Ursu's writing is simple. It isn't. But, it doesn't have all the "trappings" you find in some contemporary fantasies. There's no instalove, no overwhelming action without cause, no overexplaining as if the reader can't be trusted to understand what the author is saying. The magic seems more organic. The characters seem more developed.
That being said, it's a hard sell in today's supernatural paranormal world. Books like Ursu's don't get the recognition they should. It's a book that requires the reader to engage. And a teacher or librarian to talk it up.
I've given the 6th grade teachers Breadcrumbs and they recommend it to their high ability students. I will do the same with The Real Boy. I'll give it a spot on the Good Reads table. I'll talk about it on our school news. And I'll make sure the teachers get a copy to read at home.
Find Anne Ursu
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Monday, 9/30 - Maria's Melange - Review and Giveaway until 10/15
Wednesday, 10/2 - Sharp Reads- Colby Interviews Anne
Monday, 10/14 - Heise Reads and Recommends - Editor Jordan Brown Interviews Anne
All The Stops
Thank you to Walden Pond Press for allowing me to jump on this tour and share my love of their books!