I'm so thrilled that you can finally get your hands on one of the most magical books I've read this year!
Happy book birthday to Anne Ursu and THE REAL BOY!
Title: THE REAL BOY
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 288
Source of Book: ARC from publisher
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.
First Thought: Without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year. A mesmerizing and enchanting story.
Anne Ursu's THE REAL BOY is a mesmerizing and enchanting story of friendship, courage, and magic with an endearing main character who just wants to be "normal." It's a story that shows the reader what it means to be hopeful in the face of lost hope. It's a story that begs to be read.
Ursu has created an intriguing fantasy world filled with magical elements, yet the explanations show that the magic been declining over the years. The mythology she creates for this world is fascinating and shows the reader the depth to which their magical ancestors cared about the people of this town. The contrast between the people of Asteri and the people in the Barrow adds an element of class differences that, when added to the lonliness of Oscar's situation and his uncertainty, creates even more of a divide leading him to feel like he just doesn't get it.
The beauty of the main character, Oscar, is that he really isn't sure what's happening, so the reader gets to go along on the journey of discovery with him. We get to be a part of his awakening and realization that there may not be one particular way to be "normal" even if he may think there is. His interactions with the other inhabitants of the Barrow, including the magician he works for, show that he is a curious boy, but one who doesn't necessarily have the same way of interacting socially...no doubt related to his orphan status and not remembering his past. This leads to a bit of a mystery as he finds clues that may lead to the truth about his past, although he is not sure he wants to know the truth.
In THE REAL BOY, Anne Ursu again demonstrates a lyrical quality to her writing that had me going back and rereading sections because of the stunningly beautiful descriptions she weaves together. There is such magic in her writing...beyond the story, and just with the way she puts words together and describes things. I felt as if I was there in the Barrow, in the woods, living this story with Oscar and seeing the entrancing settings around him. Being so drawn into that world creates an even richer experience for me as a reader.
I feel compelled to add that one of the strongest elements of this story for me, was having heard Anne's story. She wrote this thinking about her son, and I feel that the message, for so many other children that may be struggling with something that makes them feel not quite "normal" at times, is such a strong one. Being different doesn't make you not real. We are all real...we are just different versions of reality.
Final Thoughts: My favorite middle grades books I've read in a long time. Please read THE REAL BOY this fall.