WWRW: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Usually I like reviewing several books for WWRW, but this week I’ve only got one.

The Real Boy takes place on a magical island called Aletheia. (Not Aleteia.)   Master Caleb, the island’s charismatic head magician runs a successful magic shop. His young “hand” Oscar has an incredible memory for and understanding of plants, but an equally intense social awkwardness. The book follows a few weeks in Oscar’s life where everything he knew to be safe and routine is turned upside down.

Suddenly Oscar is running the magic shop and dealing with people.  He can’t go to his beloved forest and gardens where  he’s safe among the plants and animals, or even retreat to his cellar work room where he prepares herbs.  He’s been thrust into the world of people, of interaction and conversation and trying to decipher what exactly people mean when they say one thing with their eyes and another with their words.

Though the words are not used, Oscar’s character exhibits some classic characteristics of the child with autism or Aspergers.   Ursu does a masterful job describing what it might be like to struggle with those abilities.  For example, at one point Oscar thinks to himself that (paraphrasing here) understanding a conversation is kind of like listening to a soft voice across the room.  No matter how hard you listen you have to strain to understand the words.

But Oscar’s communication problems are not his only issues.  something is going wrong with the perfect City children.  He and the healer’s apprentice Callie (his new and only friend) do their best to help the people of Aletheia, but it’s their friendship that is the real nugget in this book.  Callie helps (or tries to help) Oscar learn to work with people while he teaches her about medicinal plants and herbs.

I really enjoyed this book.  It could have tried to be a Harry Potter knock-off, or a social commentary on special needs or inclusion.  Instead it is a sweet story about friendship, bravery, ingenuity, overcoming personal struggles, and ultimately, about doing the right thing even if it is difficult and everyone is mad at you for it.

As for age recommendations, I never know what to say.  I’d say a 3rd grader could technically read this. But some of the themes are dark and Oscar’s inner monologue is downright heartbreaking at times.  I don’t think I’d recommend it for below 5th grade or so.  Maybe someone with older kids who has read it can comment?

Head on over to Jessica @ Housewifespice to read more book reviews and share your own, if you’ve got them.


  1. I’m always looking for good books for my fifth-grader. I do have to be mindful, however, of material that could be considered dark. I suppose this would be one that I would have to preview myself first.
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  2. Ooh, I will have to look for this one. I am intrigued.
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  3. This sounds like a fantastic read, thanks for sharing!

  4. I hate assigning recommended ages too. It’s such a nebulous thing to decide. The Real Boy sounds like a great story. I have a 5th grade boy. Imma check this one out for him on audio.
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  5. My daughter has been extremely shy all her life and although now that she is in 6th grade and has a group of friends she hangs out with, she is still very uncomfortable in new social situations. I think this sounds like something she might be able to relate to. She still likes it when I read aloud to her and sometimes she insists that she read to me so this will be a good book for us. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. This sounds wonderful. I love finding book recommendations, thanks for posting them!