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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: 'The Real Boy'

THE REAL BOY
By Anne Ursu
Middle grade fantasy
September 2013
Walden Pond Press
ISBN: 978-0062015075

Oscar is a young boy who loves what he does -- he gathers herbs and other plants and prepares them for use by Caleb, the magician who took him in years ago.

The routine calms him, his world is orderly, he and the cats get along well and he secretly reads some of the untold number of books in Caleb's library at night. He sleeps in a small room next to his workroom, both underground. The only thorn is Caleb's apprentice, Wolf, a cocky older boy. They work in the Barrow, shops where small bits of magic go into what is sold, for both regular people and the rich ones who live in the barricaded city.

When Caleb leaves on business, Wolf and a young female apprentice take off for an afternoon in the forest. They don't survive. Caleb ends up spending more time away than he's at the shop, while Oscar is overwhelmed trying to help customers. When he makes an amazing discovery, it's a good thing he finally has someone he can talk to -- the healer's apprentice, Callie. She's nearly overwhelmed herself, as the healer starts spending as much time away as Caleb has been.

Left on their own, and with the world around them changing, Oscar and Callie have a strenuous hero's journey to undertake in Anne Ursu's beautiful high fantasy, The Real Boy. Reading only on the level of adventure, it's a grand story indeed. But Ursu has woven a far richer tale. The Real Boy also has Oscar questioning everything about himself and what he thought he knew.  Since the author has a young son who has autism, Oscar's questions are poignant and revealing. Readers also are led to question the world that the city folk have set up for themselves, and what happens when people try to keep hurt and risk at bay.

The Real Boy is a wonderful story for middle grade students and above, including adults who think they know what is best and don't listen to children any longer. There is a generous spirit at play in these pages to delight any who would enter.

2013 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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