Review: The Real Boy

The Real Boy

by Anne Ursu

Find it at: Your library | Amazon | Indiebound

Published: Walden Pond Press (September 24, 2013)

Recommended reading age: 8 & up

In a nutshell: I’ve been looking forward to reading The Real Boy all year. I read it back in June and now I’ve dilly-dallied writing this here review. But I’m pleased I did, because it’s provided a lot of time for the story to linger in my mind. Anne Ursu has a way of creating a story that not only sticks to your thoughts, but her innovative and fantastical storytelling grows large enough that it leaves one with the side-effects of daydreaming and wonder.

Oscar is a working boy for one of the most powerful magicians in the Barrow. Antisocial and awkward, Oscar prefers the company of his many cats. His focus is his work of grinding herbs and plants for his Master to sell in his shop to the pockets of needy customers. The Barrow is a forest filled with old and magical trees that at one time used to be living and breathing wizards from days gone. It is also where “the Shining People” of Asteri frequently visit for magical goods. Asteri is a large fortress of a city that was originally a saving grace, imbued with magic to protect the people from a plague epidemic. Now, it is a utopian community of people that are so polished in their clothing and attitude that they literally “shine”.

As we all know, paradise doesn’t last forever. Something unspeakable happens to his Master’s apprentice which launches a sequence of unfortunate events. Oscar and new friend Callie are left to discover the origin of these developments, some of which are linked back as far as the time of the great wizards centuries ago.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the story, but I found The Real Boy to be one giant metaphor for over consumption. A major theme of the book is the magic of the Barrow and how it has sustained and protected the people of the land since the age of the wizards, the most powerful and wise keepers of the magic. But no one thing is infinite and once it is consumed and eventually mistreated, one has to cope with regrettable results. It is a good reminder that we, too, come from a place that is only able to provide so much. The earth gives us so much beyond our basic sustenance. It is our magic. We must care for it.

I have to admit the ending left me hanging. Every book doesn’t need to conclude with a bright red ribbon tied in a bow. I know this. But I did want a little more. I fear I’ll say too much and spoil it for those that haven’t read the book, but if you have/when you do, I’m interested to know if you feel this way too.

After reading Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy, I can confidently say that Anne Ursu has carved a niche of fantasy prose that is unique all to itself. Rich, transformative, and wondrous. I’ll happily stride right into future worlds her pen creates.

 Don’t take my word for it: “Pick this book up because you love to read beautiful and smart books. Or pick it up because you need a story about friendship and courage. Or truly, pick up The Real Boy because it is a book that should not be missed – this is one to treasure.” – review from Read, Write, Reflect

Extras: Behind the scenes look at the creative process behind cover art for The Real Boy by Erin McGuire via The Nerdy Book Club.

Source of book reviewed: Advanced reader’s copy provided by Walden Pond Press.


2 Responses to “Review: The Real Boy”

  1. Brandy says:

    I don’t think you’re reading too much into it. I also think there she was saying something with her contrast of Oscar to the “perfect” children of the city.

    I was fine with the ending. I think I would have been disappointed if she wrapped it up any more than she did. I can’t wait to reread it when my real copy comes and see if I still feel the same.

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