The Real Boy [NOOK Book]


On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city saved by the magic woven into its walls when a devastating plague swept through the world years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow, who spends his days in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming...

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The Real Boy

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On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city saved by the magic woven into its walls when a devastating plague swept through the world years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow, who spends his days in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island. 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 it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill; something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

Anne Ursu has written an unforgettable story of transformation and belonging—a spellbinding tale of the way in which the power we all wield, great and small, lies in the choices we make.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Chelsey Philpot
…a lovely and sophisticated new middle-grade fantasy that asks readers to wrap their heads around abstractions and accept a lack of absolutes. There is no one bad guy, people are simultaneously greedy and miraculous, and even a monster deserves understanding…The Real Boy contains delicate allusions to The Adventures of Pinocchio, by the 19th-century Italian author Carlo Collodi…and is rich with beautiful, heady notions that demand to be lingered over…Readers will need to go slowly, both to savor Ursu's descriptions and to avoid confusion. As Oscar and Callie try to understand their history and why Aletheia's magic is losing strength, they develop and discard theories the way citizens of Asteri might throw away old charms, but those who stay with their mission will be aptly rewarded.
Publishers Weekly
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. Author’s agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. Illustrator’s agent: Susan Cohen, Writers House. (Oct.)
The Horn Book
“It’s all highly rewarding and involving, with a tight plot, resonant themes, a gripping adventure, a clearly limned fantasy landscape, and a sympathetic main character.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Deeply moving, with language powerful and true as a child’s voice. Grade: A.”
Betsy Bird
“Wholly unexpected with plot twists and turns you won’t see coming, no matter how hard you squint, Ursu’s is a book worth nabbing for your own sweet self. Grab that puppy up.”
Anita Silvey
“Anne Ursu keeps readers turning the pages until the unexpected but satisfying ending of the story…. I believe this book will be around for a long, long time.”
Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“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.”
Richie's Picks
“There is such richness to this tale about a world seemingly falling apart. All of the fairy tale allusions. But in the end, The Real Boy is such a compelling fantasy story because of the two children who, amidst the chaos of their world, can help each other so much.”
Linda Urban
“Anne Ursu has created a brilliant fantasy, alive with the smells and sights and sounds of a place both familiar and strange - but the true magic of The Real Boy lies in the powerful friendship that grows between Callie and Oscar. A joy to read.”
Nancy Farmer
“The Real Boy is an engaging fable about what happens when people reject real life in favor of pleasure, of magic. I enjoyed it very much.”
Franny Billingsley
“Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is a fantasy in the truest, deepest sense: it illuminates the human experience by giving substance and shape to that which is otherwise intangible. Beautifully written and elegantly structured, this fantasy is as real as it gets.”
Children's Literature - Suzanna E. Henshon
What does it feel like to live in a magical world? To mix potions and spells that change peoples’ lives and destinies? For as long as he can remember, Oscar has lived in the basement of a magician’s home. In his work for Caleb the magician, Oscar spends his days learning how to mix herbs and potions, but he is intimidated by the idea of working in the store upstairs until Wolf, the apprentice, dies in an accident. Oscar loves to explore and learn, and he soon discovers that the world that he lives in was once filled with wizards. But the wizards are gone now, and the magic has lost its original power. Children in Asteri are dying of a mysterious illness, and Oscar is determined to do whatever he can to help. He discovers that magic is not always a good thing, and that some powers are beyond our understanding in this epic story. Ann Ursu touches magic in this narrative. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D. AGERANGE: Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Gr 4–7—The island of Aletheia boasts as its crown jewel the city of Asteri, powered by the lingering magic of ancient wizards. Nowadays there is only one, mildly magical magician, Caleb, and his lowly assistant, Oscar, to provide magical solutions for Asteri's demanding residents. People, social situations, and breaks in routine discomfit the orphaned Oscar in ways reminiscent of autistic spectrum children. He prefers to gather plants from the forest and converse with Caleb's cats. Circumstances force Oscar to depart from routine when Asteri's magic goes awry. Oscar teams up with Callie, the healer's apprentice, to cure the ailments and repair the broken magic that threatens Aletheia. In the process, Oscar discovers Caleb's illicit use of magic, questioning his own origins and purpose. This is a tale replete with memorable settings and weighty issues. Readers will dog Oscar's footsteps, wondering as he does, when magic moves from being a gift to becoming a crutch. His friendship with Callie serves as a bridge between him and the larger community, and it often puzzles him. Ursu subtly proves that Oscar and Callie have a mutually beneficial relationship that gives both needed insight and support. As the novel concludes, the dense plotlines pull in as tight as they can, but there are still unanswered questions and a rather quick ending. Still, Oscar's tremendous heart fills every nook of this richly told story. His heroic stumbles will fondly remind readers of Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997) and Meg from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
Kirkus Reviews
An isolated, insecure orphan living in magical Aletheia becomes a "real boy" when his ordered world crumbles and he must rely on himself. Since coming to the Barrow, 11-year-old Oscar has lived in magician Caleb's cellar, where he performs menial tasks preparing herbs. The Barrow encircles a shining, walled town whose privileged residents depend on the Barrow's magic smiths to supply them with protective potions, salves, charms and spells. Clueless about people, Oscar loves plants, including the wizard trees that infuse the Barrow's soil with magic. When urgent business takes Caleb away, his apprentice is murdered, and Oscar must run Caleb's shop. Lacking social skills, Oscar longs to fold "up, like an envelope," but he manages the shop with help from a kindhearted girl who befriends him. Suddenly, more terrible things happen: Children begin to ail, wizard trees are felled, and a sinister creature kills Caleb and threatens the Barrow. Determined to find why magic no longer protects everyone and burdened with many characteristics of autism, the unlikely Oscar realizes it's up to him. Incorporating fairy-tale elements, Oscar's story unfolds slowly as he overcomes his phobias and discovers that friendship trumps magic any day. Black-and-white illustrations capture story highlights. A good pick for fairy-tale fans, especially those battling their own fears. (map) (Fantasy. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062049254
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 184,544
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 730L (what's this?)
  • File size: 874 KB

Meet the Author

Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, which Kirkus Reviews called a "transforming testament to the power of friendship" in a starred review, and was acclaimed as one of the best books of 2011 by The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly,, and the Chicago Public Library. It was also on the IndieBound Next List and was an NPR Backseat Book Club featured selection. She was also the recipient of the 2013 McKnight Fellowship Award in Children's Literature. Anne teaches at Hamline University's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her son and four cats—monster fighters, all.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 31, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Yea for Oscar! This book had me cheering for Oscar as he catapu

    Yea for Oscar! This book had me cheering for Oscar as he catapulted to heroism from his humble, unsure-of-himself stature as a ."helper" to Caleb, a magician in the Barrow.
    With the help of new found friend Callie, Oscar discovers why he is shy, different and not an ordinary person. Knowing the truth he is able to confront evil powers at work on his island and become a true healer in his community.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 9, 2014

    Anne Ursu took one or two aspects from an old story and spun a b

    Anne Ursu took one or two aspects from an old story and spun a brand new fairy tale. The Real Boy is about a magician's hand, Oscar, who doesn't fit in with everyone else. He's odd, and he knows it. Through an unexpected friendship with the healer's apprentice, Oscar begins to unearth secrets about the island he calls home. What he finds changes the way he views magic, and the world, forever.

    Magic, something that started out so beautiful, turned ugly in the face of greed and selfishness. Disrespect for magic's power and disregard of ancestral warnings are among the many pitfalls of the magic smiths. Ursu gives us a cautionary tale to never let a hunger for wealth, fame, knowledge, power, or anything else, override what you know in your heart to be right.

    Ursu's heartfelt novel is beautifully crafted. Adults may enjoy the book more than children, but either way, it's a wonderful story with a great message.

    Content: A couple of scary scenes/fantasy violence, but I consider this clean.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2014

    Unusual lead character excellent book

    I llove this book and did not want it to end. The lead character is unusual in a way one does not immediatly realize. If you love cats and can relate to someone who does not quite fit in, you will enjoy this whether or not you are a fan of fantasy books.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2014

    Heart-warming, Unique, and Unexpected I LOVED this book. Loved,

    Heart-warming, Unique, and Unexpected

    I LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved. It helped that Oscar was totally off-kilter, that he couldn't understand the world around him, and that his innocence was endearing. Some stories bring you emotionally along a path but don't quite make the full circle. This was the opposite. It sealed the deal and connected 100%. Magic and fantasy meld perfectly (and evenly) into a journey of self-discovery and awareness. 

    This goes on my top shelf of recommended reads for any age group or audience. Those of you who can't remember what it's like to be a kid, you're in for an expedition through first and new experiences. If you've ever felt out of place in the world, this is the book for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014


    This books is asome 200000000 people

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

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