National Book Award Longlist * Bank Street Children's Book Committee Best Book of the Year
"Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets."—Franny Billingsley, author of Chime
The Real Boy, Anne Ursu's follow-up to her widely acclaimed and beloved middle grade fantasy Breadcrumbs, is a spellbinding tale of the power we all wield, great and small.
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy named Oscar. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the village, and 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 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 forest will keep his island safe. Now even magic may not be enough to save it.
Oscar is the magician's hand, charged with collecting plants to concoct spells, and lives happily hidden away, with his cats, in the cellar of Master Caleb's shop in the Barrow, outside the walled city of Asteri. (Ursu subtly delineates tics that suggest 11-year-old Oscar may be autistic.) Then Master Caleb disappears for mysterious obligations on the continent, and the bane of Oscar's existence, the magician's apprentice, is killed. Oscar's world crumbles. Unprepared to deal with customers, he receives help from the Healer's apprentice, Callie, but Oscar realizes his inability to make small talk is more than shyness: there is something off about him. It gets worse: his garden is ravaged, the city's children fall ill, and a monster stalks the countryside. It's left to Oscar and Callie to save Asteri. Adult readers will savor Ursu's allusions to well-known fairy tales most significantly, Pinocchio and appreciate the many well-turned phrases. But the story has some gaps, and a message about the failings of magic may disappoint younger fantasy fans. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8 12.