The Real Boy

by Anne Ursu
First sentence: “The residents of the gleaming hilltop town of Asteri called their home, simply, the City.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Some intense moments — both physically and psychologically — and the language and pacing are a bit slow, especially for a struggling reader. Still, it fits in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.

After I finished reading this, A took a look at it and said,”Huh.’The Real Boy’? Is that like Pinocchio?”

Well, yes. Yes it is.

The island of Aletheia is full of magic, even though there are no wizards anymore. There are magic smiths, and Oscar is the hand to one. Which means, he collects and chops the herbs and basically stays out of the way. That is, until the apprentice turns up dead and the magic smith go missing. That’s when Oscar’s world starts unraveling: everything he thought Aletheia was built on, everything he thought his master was turns out to be built upon a lie. And it’s up to Oscar and Callie, the healer’s apprentice, to figure out what the truth is, and how to set everything right. And, because I alluded to it, yes, the Pinocchio story does play a small role.

This was a lovely, lyrical book; Ursu is a magnificent, quiet writer. She knows how to evoke a feeling and a place — the forest is dark and magical and calming. And even though it’s never explicitly said, Ursu makes it obvious through little words and phrases that Oscar has some form of autism. That simple fact upped the tension when it was up to Oscar become the Hero of this story. How — if he doesn’t know how to interact with people — is he supposed to figure everything out? Enter Callie, who was a remarkable character. (In fact, all the characters, from the magic smiths to the bullies, to the people in the city who were Indulged and Coddled, were remarkably written.) She is the healer’s apprentice, magicless in a world where magic is everything, and yet she’s smart and plucky and brave, but most of all caring.

In addition to all that, and refreshingly, it’s not a start of a series! Hooray for stand-alone books! My only detriment is that I’m not sure this will appeal to many kids. But for the ones who are daring enough (or quiet enough) to pick it up, they’re in for a real treat.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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