The Real Boy
Real Boy
Anne Ursu, illus. by Erin McGuire
ISBN 9780062015075
Walden Pond/ HarperCollins, 2013.
5 stars
Keywords: anne-ursu coming-age friendship healing magic real-boy

The Real Boy
by Anne Ursu, illus. by Erin McGuire

In the tradition of The Velveteen Rabbit and Pinocchio, Anne Ursu's (Breadcrumbs) latest novel explores what makes someone (or something) "real." The author mines the potential of magic and mystery in the story of 11-year-old Oscar, whom Master Caleb, "the first magician in a generation," plucked from the orphanage.

Oscar lives with Master Caleb in the Barrow, "the tangle of forest and darkness" that encircles Asteri, the "Shining City," named for its "Shining People." Oscar prefers not to talk with anyone, and feels most at home in the forest, where the magic lives in the soil of the wizard trees. There Oscar gathers herbs, then mixes them in the cellar of the magician's shop for Master Caleb's concoctions. Ursu weaves together a haunting tale of a village greedy for magic and power. Rather than confront themselves, the citizens crave more and more magic to do the work for them. And the cost is great.

Ursu describes how Oscar prizes routine and rules--and how compelled he feels to find answers to what's happening to the disintegrating world around them ("[I]t was very difficult to know how to function in the world when every truth turned out to be just an illusion"). As Oscar ventures into the unknown to set things right, he learns he has more courage than he could ever have imagined.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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