Here in the Real World

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What's the right kind of kid?

For some parents it's the kid they wish they had been. For some parents it's the kid who is social, outgoing, loves sports, and has a lot of friends. That last kid - the super extravert/extrovert - is the one eleven-year old Ware's parents want him to be.

Ware's dad wants Ware to watch the games with him. Ware's mom wants him to make an ocean of friends. Neither parent seems to see who Ware is or maybe doesn't want to see who Ware is.

Up until now Ware has been okay. He's been living by the Code of the Knights. He's been able to spend his free time with his grandmother, a forceful personality, known to the family as Big Deal. Big Deal gives Ware room to be himself. She shares with him. She sees him. He's a happy camper.

Until now that is. Now, Big Deal has fallen, is getting two new hips and is going to spend some serious time in rehab. Since Ware's parents both work, Ware has to be put somewhere. It's summer and Ware's mom, the efficiency expert, has found him a terrific summer camp where she is sure Ware will spend his days having Meaningful Social Interaction. One day of being dropped off at the camp, convinces Ware that he's done with that.

Luckily he climbs a tree out back and spots someone out behind the camp building. That someone is Jolene, a girl with a lot of spunk and a girl who does not let herself live in Magic Fairness Land. She's had enough reality in her life to convince her that life is not fair and she isn't ever going to trust that it will be. She's going to take her life in her own hands and make a papaya plantation out of the rotten papayas the local grocer gives her.

After all, "Everything was something else before."

What starts out as a demolished church, filled with rubble, quickly becomes something special to Ware and Jolene. Ware is delighted to help Jolene and then the day comes when they learn they need to build a moat around the church to save sandhill cranes who will eventually migrate through this area and might crash land on the dark pavement left of the church parking lot...the crashing and the landing could prove fatal.

For Ware the moat holds an even more powerful hope. The moat may just be the place where he can jump in, get baptized and be transformed into a new person - a person who is normal. He will be reborn.

It's an amazingly uncomfortable, energy sapping thing when you feel like the odd one out. It's an amazingly discouraging thing when you can't figure out who you really are but you sure as heck know you aren't "right" as far as your parents are concerned. How many of us have wished we could be someone other than ourselves? How many of us believed if we could change one thing maybe (like Genesis in Genesis Begins Again), just maybe, then we'd be loved.

Every one of us needs to know we are valuable just as we are. Every one of us needs to know we belong even without being the biggest talker or the one with the most yearbook signatures. Every one of us deserves someone special to hold out a hand either figuratively or literally and let us know we aren't alone in the world. We have a friend. We are liked and maybe even we are loved.

"Hoo boy. Tell me about it."

For Ware who is content with the enormous map of the world inside of himself, every day delivers a message that he is too different, not measuring up to the parental expectation chart, and just basically isn't normal. But his do-over moat may work the miracle.

Finally, for Ware that hand might finally be reaching out and it might be meant for him. Finally for Ware, just maybe, he'll discover he is normal....and most important of all, just maybe, for the first time he'll believe he is the right kind of kid.

Recommended by: Barb Langridge,

**************** < strong>From the author of the highly acclaimed, New York Times bestselling novel Pax comes a gorgeous and moving middle grade novel that is an ode to introverts, dreamers, and misfits everywhere.

Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”—dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot.

Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer—he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge.

But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good—and vows to save the lot.

But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?---from the publisher

320 pages                                      978-0062698957                        Ages 9-13

Keywords:  being yourself, identity, introverts, dreamers, social skills, heroes, friendship, feelings, coming of age, standing up for yourself, heroes, activists, summer, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old


What Ware accidentally heard his mother ask his father:

“Why can’t we have a normal kid?”

“The Power of Solitude

There’s a lot of power in allowing both children and adults to spend time by themselves. Experiencing solitude helps individuals learn certain tasks, think creatively, and deal with their emotions. The right amount of time spent alone can even improve empathy and social skills.”

-- from (2018)

“We can beat them, just for one day.”

-- David Bowie, “Heroes” (1977)

“When his parents bought this place at the end of the summer, they’d own this backyard, too. The lounge chairs could be broken down to make armor. The shed would work as a throne room. The picnic table could be a drawbridge once he sawed off the legs. He’d turn the narrow side yard into a barbican, the courtyard of deathly obstacles for attackers. No boiling oil, obviously, but definitely a catapult. He’d notch toeholds in the wooden fence and take running leaps to claim the top, mounting the ramparts it was called. This last was such a satisfying image, he replayed it, this time in classic knight’s stance: chin up, chest out, advance boldly.

Ware dropped to the picnic table and stretched out. Sometimes he wished he lived back in the middle ages. Things were a lot simpler then, anyway, especially if you were a knight. Knights had a rule book--their code of chivalry--that covered everything. Thou shalt always do this, thou shalt never be that. If you were a knight, you knew where you stood.”

As his parents scrambled to finally achieve their home-buying goal, Ware began his first summer of staying with his beloved grandmother, Big Idea. Then his grandmother fell and broke both of her hips. Suddenly, she’s heading for a summer of surgery and rehab. As a result, Ware is now stuck returning to the same rec program he’s been shuffled off to every summer since he was a little kid.

Ware’s mother is determined that he engage in meaningful social interactions. But Ware really enjoys spending lots of time alone. His disappointment over being forced to return to the rec program, rather than getting to stay home alone, leads Ware to play hooky and begin an ongoing deception about how he is spending his summer days.

Near the rec center, he has discovered a quirky girl named Jolene who's creating a garden in an empty lot adjoining an abandoned, semi-razed church. Jolene, who sees herself rooted in the “real world,” has a grand scheme to grow papayas from seed and sell the harvests. She’s already sprouted scores of baby papaya trees that she’s tending to in the used snack containers she collects from the local bar.

Jolene is protective of her garden, but she and Ware come to an understanding that Ware can do his own thing at the destroyed church. He imagines it as a future castle. In trying to bring order to the chaos, he digs through all sorts of artifacts that were left behind, and he begins to fashion the wreckage into his own imaginary edifice.

But their idyllic daily routines are rudely disrupted when the “Auction Coming” sign appears on the perimeter of their playworld property.

Jolene falls into despair over the fact that their refuge may become off-limits at any moment. And what is Ware’s reaction? He relies upon a rule from the Knight’s Code he’s learned: “Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and the Good.” He pledges to Jolene that he will somehow save her garden.

But how is he going to accomplish that? Fortunately, Ware’s semi-famous Uncle Cyrus shows up for a timely visit. Uncle Cy offers Ware a valuable perspective, along with some practical tools. Ware thereby feels empowered to uphold his knightly commitments.

HERE IN THE REAL WORLD is a coming of age story in which two kids, both of whom feel unwanted by their caregivers, learn to be there for one another, and to make a difference in the world.

Young people who thrive on spending time alone will find a supportive message here. And I love the idealism of trying to live up to the code of chivalry. There is also a strong environmental component as Jolene is an obsessive recycler and composter, and an expert on refuse. (There’s a bizarrely amusing story thread regarding the disposition of the old hips that Ware’s grandmother has had replaced.)

HERE IN THE REAL WORLD is a fun and fulfilling read for 9-14 year olds.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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