By Anne Ursu
Illustrations by Erin McGuire
Available now from Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins)
I think I have a weakness for stories about magician's apprentices. Not that Oscar is a real apprentice. He works in the basement of a magic shop, chopping and storing herbs, and other menial work. He knows herbs and cats, but not people.
Then Oscar is thrust into the task of running the shop by himself, interacting with patrons and offering the right bit of magic to solve their problems. It's not his strong suit. Luckily, a fellow apprentice, Callie, agrees to help him understand people and run the store. Although it is not said in the text, since THE REAL BOY is set in a fantasy land, Oscar is somewhere on the autism spectrum. I thought this was well done, but I'm not sure whether it would work as well with the intended audience.
I do enjoy the fable-like style of THE REAL BOY. Oscar and Callie live on the only island in the world with magic, but they soon discover that there are consequences of magic. They also learn that things aren't always what they appear to be, nor are people. On the other hand, I had issues with how the plot plays out. It doesn't make much sense when you think about it, even if it makes sense with the themes of THE REAL BOY.
The pictures by Erin McGuire are terrific. They leave the characters' ethnicities ambiguous, so that kids can see themselves reflected in the pictures. They also match the descriptions in the text well.
I thought THE REAL BOY was wonderful, but I'm not sure that its appeal will come across fully to younger readers. It's not quite as accessible as BREADCRUMBS.