Retelling Book Review: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

The Real BoyThe Real Boy by Anne Ursu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book even better than Ursu’s critically acclaimed Breadcrumbs, which was a pleasant surprise, especially since the source material (Pinnochio) is less appealing than The Snow Queen was.

Although I shelved this book with “retellings,” it’s really more of an “inspired by” book. There are definitely allusions to Pinnochio, including the title and subtle imagery throughout the book, but it also stands completely on its own as a fantasy novel. The worldbuilding is just complex enough without bogging the story down too much, each detail there to say something about the power of magic, fear, and regret. The language is beautiful, and characters are well-rounded and often morally ambiguous, especially the magician Caleb. I loved Oscar, the main character, and the way he embodied the awkwardness of not fitting in. I think he was written as a character with Asperger’s, although this was never made explicit even in an allegorical way. I think it’s especially valuable when genre books feature characters with mental differences without the book being totally about that, and this book pulls it off beautifully. Oscar has his own story — he just happens to navigate his world in a way that we might expect someone with Asperger’s might.

In Breadcrumbs, I felt where the story really shone was in its fantastical elements. Perhaps that’s why I liked this one even more, because the whole story takes place in such a setting. I loved just totally sinking into this world. I refrained from giving the book five stars because it seems to get a little jumbled at the end, and the ultimate solution is somewhat morally ambiguous if you stop to think about it — but is supposed to be interpreted ineffably as the “right thing to do,” I think. Still, I will not be passing this book on via Paperbackswap, which is one of the highest honors a book can earn in my book-crowded house!

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