The same can be said for the words we read in a book, fueled by the writer's skill and our imaginations. For the time we are immersed in the story it becomes our truth. Anne Ursu's newest title, The Real Boy (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) explores the concept of reality within a realm wrapped in magic.
The residents of the gleaming hilltop town of Asteri called their home, simply, the City. The residents of the Barrow---the tangle of forest and darkness that encircled the bottom of Asteri's hill like a shadowy moat---called Asteri the Shining City, and those who lived there the Shining People.
In a time before now, magic was everywhere on the island of Aletheia. Wizards would not die but went to the forest of the Barrow transforming themselves into trees. After the last wizard there were sorcerers, then magicians and finally the magic smiths.
Today there are only the smiths found in the Barrow, the last place where magic resides, except for one, Caleb, more powerful than the rest, the first magician in decades. Caleb has taken on an apprentice, Wolf, an arrogant, cruel young man believing his capabilities to be greater than they are. Oscar, an orphan from the Children's Home, resides with Caleb and Wolf as a hand, an errand boy, a collector of herbs and plants used in Caleb's shop.
Quiet, understanding and communicating with cats better than humans, Oscar is a gifted boy preferring the solitude of the cellar pantry. There he works, drying, mashing, distilling and mixing those items found in the forest and Caleb's house of glass. He finds comfort in the structure of his weekly jobs and his trips outside the town. In the forest he perceives the nature of the animals and each of the one hundred wizard trees with abilities natural to him but strange to others.
There are secrets in Caleb's shop and home. Caleb strictly guards his basement workroom and has been taking more frequent and longer visits to the continent. When Caleb is not present, Wolf shifts into his ambitious hungry self, venturing where he should not go. Oscar although forbidden to do so, leaves his tiny room at night, sneaking into Caleb's library. He can read, remembering perfectly the text, as well as he can recall the ingredients on the shelves in the pantry or the way through the forest, with pictures, maps, in his mind.
In an unsettling turn of events, Oscar's world is turned upside down. Wolf and another apprentice are killed in the forest, children from The City are becoming ill, exhibiting unusual symptoms and Caleb's comings and goings are more mysterious and ill-timed than ever. Oscar, the boy who has difficulty socializing with people, has had the shop left in his care. With secrets of her own, Callie, an apprentice to Madame Mariel, the healer, enlists Oscar's help. In return, she will assist him with the running of the shop and in learning to read people's conversations, the messages sent with body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.
Before long the alliance of the two, apprentice and hand, is tested by incomprehensible occurrences and devastating discoveries. Supported by Callie's kindness and understanding, Oscar's uniquely creative abilities are able to discern the truth. There is a special kind of magic in knowing the truth, about the world, about others, about yourself. Will it be enough for Oscar?
After two complete readings and numerous partial readings, my copy of The Real Boy has pages liberally peppered with sticky notes marking thoughts, dialogues, and descriptions. With Anne Ursu's writing we are able to distinctly visualize Oscar's world, creating pictures and movies in our minds. Her conversations between characters do much to inform us of each individual's personality. It's when we enter the thoughts of Oscar, our senses are fully awakened; we look up from our reading of the book surprised to not see him standing in front of us. The empathy we feel for and with Oscar is so real...yes...so real we feel as though we can hold it in our hands.
Besides a beautifully conceived plot layered in mystery, adventure and action covered in the defining use, or not, of magic, several secondary persons in this story stand out, one from The City, the other from the Barrow. Lord Cooper and Malcolm, the baker, provide contrasting views on the purpose and use of magic. The one believes half-truths, the other knows the truth. Despite this seeming disparity, they both are guided by love. Here are a couple of passages from this story.
The apprentice's name was Wolf, because sometimes the universe is an unsubtle place.
"Oh, it won't work!" Wolf exclaimed, slapping his hands on his forehead. "I had no idea! What would I, apprentice to the Barrow's only true magician, do if it weren't for the cellar mouse to tell me that it won't work!"
"Well," Oscar said, "you could always look it up in the library."
Wolf's eyes flared. Oscar flinched. He hadn't even been trying to make Wolf angry; all he'd done was answer his question.
Oscar held the bag close, let it warm his chest. The smell pulled at him like a wish.
Even with the shop empty, he could feel the rhythms and patterns the customers had left behind, hear the ghosts of their voices in the air. That was what happened---people came into the shop and left and went on about their days, but their echoes stayed behind, took up residence in Oscar's head, and did not leave.
Perhaps being real is being noticed, having people see beyond the outside, wanting to see the inside. Perhaps being real is being loved for being you. When you're real, everything changes. The Real Boy written by Anne Ursu is an exquisite story, one that will find a spot in your mind and heart, lingering in the best possible way.
Please follow the link embedded in Anne Ursu's name above to her official website. Follow this link to the publisher's website to read the first seventy pages of the book. In March 2013 the illustrator of the cover, Erin McGuire, did a post at the Nerdy Book Club about her artwork for the book.
Be sure to visit other stops on The Real Boy Blog Tour.
Monday, 9/30, Maria's Melange---Maria's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Tuesday, 10/01, There's A Book---Danielle's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/02, sharpread---Colby Interviews Anne
Thursday, 10/03, Novel Sounds---Elena's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Friday, 10/04, Word Spelunking--- Aeicha's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway+an Interview
Saturday, 10/05, The Hiding Spot---Sara's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Sunday, 10/06, The Brain Lair---Kathy's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Monday, 10/07, Read, Write, Reflect---Anne Talks About Oscar with Katherine
Tuesday, 10/08, Librarian's Quest---Margie's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Wednesday, 10/09, Buried in Books--- Heather's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Thursday, 10/10, The Book Monsters--- Kristen's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Friday, 10/11, Cari's Book Blog---Cari's Take on The Real Boy + An Interview with Anne
Saturday, 10/12, Unleashing Readers--- Kellee Interviews Illustrator Erin McGuire
Sunday, 10/13, Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers--- Gina's Take on The Real Boy +Giveaway
Monday, 10/14, Heise Reads and Recommends--- Editor Jordan Brown Interviews Anne
Tuesday, 10/15, Bulldog Readers Blog---The Bulldog Readers Debut Their Book Trailer
Here's an opportunity to win $300. worth of books in The Real Boy sweepstakes.