Monday, September 30, 2013

Blog Tour - Review of The Real Boy by Anne Ursu



I’ve read a lot of great books recently. Being a part of an online community of readers like #NerdyBookClub means the majority of the books I even think about picking up have been strongly endorsed by those I trust. With all the excitement and hype over The Real Boy, I was chomping at the bit to have the chance to read it. Magic, adventure, friendship.. it sounded like this story would be right up my alley.

Instead of finding a book I enjoyed and would happily pass on to my students, I found my newest “perfect match”. That's why I was thrilled to be asked to participate in this blog tour and share my thoughts about the book with you!



The Real Boy
by Anne Ursu (Goodreads Author),
Erin Mcguire (Goodreads Author)(Illustrations)
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Walden Pond Press
ISBN 0062015079 (ISBN13: 9780062015075)

Source: I read an electronic ARC through Edelweiss, but have also purchased two copies for my classroom library.



On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.


My Thoughts:
Ireland Day Nine

I was so excited to get a digital ARC of The Real Boy, because that meant I could take it with me on my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland. My husband and I had a night at a beautiful, quiet B&B with a gorgeous view of the rocky coastline when I pulled out the book.

Within a handful of pages, I knew I would need to allow myself to read it this first time through unencumbered by the need to take notes. I didn't even have Wifi access to tweet out my thoughts to my nerdybookclub crew! Instead, I sank into the delicious rhythms of the writing and found myself bonding with little Oscar and his fascinating world.

I devoured the story, and delighted in the little ways in which Oscar's life meshed with the events of my trip during my reading. The ocean view from my room echoed the importance of the sea in the latter parts of his tale. I finished the book the same day that I visited Blarney Castle and explored the intriguing "poison garden" - filled with plants that have medicinal AND dangerous properties.


Day TenMaybe it ties into my love of fantasy and ancient and medieval history, but the study of how herbs have been used throughout time has fascinated me since upper elementary school. Every time Oscar referenced an herb, I twitched with delight. Was that one I already knew? Were his uses of the herb consistent with what I had learned about traditional uses of that leaf, root, or oil?

It's a tribute to Ursu's marvelous world building skill that any of the herbs I did specifically recall matched up wonderfully with how Oscar used it. If you are fascinated by the history of herbs in medicine, check out the writings of Nicholas Culpeper - a medieval herbalist in London.






I read to explore new worlds. 

World building can make or break a fantasy novel. Ursu's deftly woven tapestry of characters, mystery, and carefully crafted magical rules yanked me right into the story. I felt like Oscar's home was a real place - a true place - just one that I had not yet visited. As Oscar learns each new bit of information about his world, I never felt like information was just being dumped upon me. Instead, I got to experience Oscar's own awakening understanding as if it were my own. That, my friends, is how you create and reveal the details of a fictional world.

I read to find myself in the characters.

Oscar's struggle to make sense of his discomfort, his difficulty fitting in with those around him, and his deep desire to find a place where he truly belongs reminds me of myself as an early teen. Callie's open heart, passion to prove herself, and the way she reaches out to Oscar to help him feels so much like what I do now as a teacher.

I read to lose myself in a story.

The Real Boy was filled with magical elements that were slowly revealed. It was fantasy - it was mystery - it was a growing up tale. It kept me guessing, and wondering, and hoping until the very end.


Not only was this the perfect book for me, but I can see it being a wonderful read for:

Parent & Child book clubs: The Real Boy had a core that I saw through eyes of my childhood and with the eyes of a mother. With themes of overprotection and fear for those we love, parents can explore those concerns in their own hearts as the story progresses. They can also see the way children push back against those restrictions. I can see meaningful discussions springing up between parent and child about balancing caution with the need to release that fear so our children can experience life to its fullest.

Children who struggle to fit in like Oscar. Children who fit in easily, but have the inner empathy to reach out to Oscars. I work with both of these types of students. I bet you do, too. Those who would identify with Oscar need to see that his mind is beautiful, and perfect, and needed in our world. His lack of social understanding doesn't make him any less "real" than any other kind of mind. Those who would identify with Callie need to see that reaching out that hand can create a beautiful friendship.



In early September, JoEllen McCarthy wrote at Nerdy Book Club about books that leave footprints on our heart - becoming "heartprint books". Oscar and Callie have nestled themselves into my heart. They join beloved friends like the Pevinsies, Leslie and Jess, the Murry clan, and so many more. Go ahead - see if they don't worm their way into your heart and the hearts of the readers under your care.


Be sure to enter the giveaway - and check out the other Blog Tour stops below!


MORE GREAT STUFF! 

Check out the rest of the stops on the Blog Tour for more insights into the book and for chances to win your own copy! You'll find the list of all the stops at the Walden Pond Press: The Real Boy page. 


Want more? Walden Pond Press is ALSO running a Facebook contest to give away $300 worth of books to celebrate The Real Boy. Yes... you read that correctly! So head on over and enter. 

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