The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
The author of Breadcrumbs has returned with another beautiful fairy tale. Oscar was taken in by the last known magician, Master Caleb, and in return works for him as his hand. That means that Oscar manages the harvesting and preparation of the many herbs and plants Master Caleb uses in his magic. Oscar is very happy with his life below the shop, accompanied only by the cats that live there too. The only problem is Wolf, Master Caleb’s apprentice, who brutally teases Oscar any chance he gets. But the world around Oscar is quickly changing. The Barrow, the forest of ancient wizard wood trees that encircles the city, has also begun to be affected. It may be that the very magic itself is changing too.
Ursu weaves such beauty into her books. She lingers over small things, taking the time to build a world in which her characters live. One examples of this is her description of the Barrow early in the book:
The trees had magic in their leaves, their berries, and their bark. Plants and shrubs and flowers grew everywhere; purplish-greenish moss crawled on the rocks; improbable mushrooms sprang from the soil in tiny little groves of their own.
The entire book is infused with a sense of rich detail and layering. Oscar’s own small world below stairs is just as lovingly described and detailed until one longs to be the hand of a magician too and have cats for friends.
Oscar himself is an amazing character. Because the book is told from his point of view, readers will understand him easily, but Oscar struggles with human beings, emotions and understanding what is meant. When he is forced out from his snug workspace, the world becomes confusing. He holds himself stiffly, hates looking people in the eye, and struggles to be social. Clearly on the autism spectrum, Oscar has unique abilities too, allowing him to see what others do not by paying close attention.
This amazing fantasy novel is one of the best reads for middle graders this year. Get your hands on this one! Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Walden Pond Press.