You may have noticed the nod to Pinocchio in the title of The Real Boy. But Anne Ursu’s book isn’t a retelling. She takes elements and themes from the story of that wooden boy and weaves them into a fantastic tapestry that speaks to very real issues.
The Story of The Real Boy
Oscar works for the one true magician sorting herbs and tending the cats. But when things go horribly wrong, Oscar must take over running the shop, a task he is sure he wasn’t made for. Now the children of the Shining People are getting sick, and with his master gone, Oscar doesn’t know what to do. There’s a mystery involved, and that mystery might just involve Oscar himself.
What I Loved
- Neurodiverse Character–Oscar knows that he is different. To the adult reader, and perhaps some kids, he is clearly autistic, perhaps savant. But in his world, there is no name for this, and he feels like the only one. Seeing the story through Oscar’s eyes is a powerful way to develop empathy in the reader. I loved how clearly and compassionately Ursu depicts him.
- Messages--The Real Boy has multiple themes: kindness, acceptance, the dangers of relying on magic (which I saw as a veiled reference, perhaps, to science or technology). They all come across strongly through the story without a hint of preachiness.
- Worldbuilding--Ursu expertly weaves her fantasy world with magic in the very ground. Her descriptions are stunning and her characters intriguing.
What Parents Should Know
- Some Disturbing Images–A boy is killed off stage and brought back in a bag. A monster wrecks havoc, and children are sick in strange ways. Sensitive children may have issues with this novel, but I didn’t find anything inappropriate for children ten and older.
- Magic–While there is magic in the book, it’s more inherent to nature, not spells and sorcery. But if you don’t like magic, this isn’t the book for your family.
- Bullying–Oscar is bullied by his master’s apprentice. Some adults also treat him harshly because of his differences.
Overall, I think The Real Boy is a fantastic fantasy book for ages ten and up.