Oscar lives in the cellar. He's happy there. In the cellar he is surrounded by things familiar like his collection of cats and his work. Caleb, the magician, already has an apprentice, a boy by the name of Wolf, but he keeps Oscar around as a "hand" to pound his herbs and gather his plants. Wolf runs the shop and Oscar disappears into the shadows feeling miserably uncomfortable when customers look in his direction.
Outside the shop is the magical world of the city, Asteri filled with its magical people. The Shining People who inhabit the city come to the magician's shop in search of potions and cures. A magic-filled forest called the Barrow surrounds the city and fills the land with its power. All is well in the world. Or is it?
Day by day new horrors reveal themselves. Children are falling ill and these are the perfect children to whom no bad thing can ever happen until now. Death and violence are rearing their ugliness and casting a long shadow in the village.
Oscar struggles to understand the people around him and how to interact with them. He struggles to understand who he is, what he is made of, and what he should expect of himself.
Friendship warms the tale.
This is a brilliantly written story that leads us to consider the world in which we live. What is the magic we worship? What are we made of? Have we come to a time when the destruction of our natural world is calling us to task?
For Investigator Analyst and Answerman this story will ring all the bells. The word choices are sublime. The depth of the story asks something more of the reader. The themes are profoundly important and relevant. This could become a classic.
The plot will entertain. The character will demand respect. Joan of Arc and Seeker need to know the heart they seek does not lie here. This is a thought out, thought through, brilliantly crafted tale carved of of priceless wood.
Ages 9-13 978-0062015075
Recommended by Barb
"Believe in the magic that can set you free
Oh, talkin' 'bout magic"
-- John Sebastian (1965)
"A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?"
-- Ronald Reagan (1966)
"Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families and their futures. The president said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, 'Why, this country is a shining city on a hill."
--Mario Cuomo (1984)
"To become a real boy, you must prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish.”
"He worked the shop methodically, studiously, trying to take up as little space as possible. He answered the customers' questions in as few syllables as he could, and every few minutes he smoothed his shirt and ran his hand through his hair. He would do the best he could.
"But he felt stiff everywhere. Even the syllables felt stiff in his mouth. The only thing worse than being odd was trying desperately not to be.
"Then, in the afternoon, Callie walked through the door again, now in her bright red cloak. She strode right up to the counter and stood behind it.
"'Is this all right?' she whispered to Oscar, glancing at the people browsing the store. 'To act like I'm working here?'
"Oscar's mouth hung open. Of course it was all right. It was the most all right thing that had ever happened to him."
From their earliest meetings onward, watching the interplay of these two young characters - socially-inept Oscar and herbally-inept Callie -- just made me so happy. It is the magic between them -- from the first time we see Oscar see her -- that made it so much fun to dive head-first into this fantastical world of the Barrow, "the tangle of forest and darkness that encircled the bottom of Asteri's hill like a shadowy moat..."
There is such richness to this tale about a world seemingly falling apart. All of the fairy tale allusions. All of the plot twists that took me by surprise. The disregard for people and for the environment that greed has fostered in so many of the adult characters we meet in this well-drawn setting.
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: eleven year-old Oscar, an orphan, who is the lowly (but secretly brilliant) "Hand" to Caleb, the greatest magic worker in the Barrow; and Callie, who is Apprentice to a healer:
"He flushed suddenly, intensely, like his whole face was a match someone had just lit. He looked away.
"Silence then. He could not look at Callie, had no idea what her face was telling him, probably could not even have understood it if it had been trying to tell him something. Mistress Alma clattered in the corner.
"'In the shop yesterday,' Callie said, voice hushed, 'with the city girls...you weren't trying to be rude, were you?'
"Oscar shook his head. 'I was just telling them the truth.' The words felt like a confession and underneath, a question.
"'Sometimes,' Callie said slowly, 'the truth is not always the best thing to say.' She tucked the errant curl back behind her ear and studied him. 'Oscar,' she added. 'why don't we trade? You help me with the plant magic. I'll help you with...people. Working the shop. Talking to customers. I'll show you what to do. And how to deal with city people. We'll just trade, that's all.'
"'You'll...help me?' Oscar said.
"'Yes. A trade. A deal.'
"Oscar inhaled, and the breath he took in filled him so much that he was all air. 'Yes,' he said, bringing his eyes almost up to hers. 'Yes.'"
352 pages 978-0062015075 Ages 8-12