HarperCollins, 2013 343 pgs
Oscar is the hand (or servant) to a magical apothecary in an isolated village in medieval, fairy tale times. He is often at the mercy of the nasty apprentice who also resides at the residence and lacks confidence and companionship, having only his cats to keep him company. Things start moving quickly, as the magician leaves for a journey and the apprentice is brutally killed by a beast, leaving Oscar in charge. The shop is filled with demanding patrons and Oscar is helped by a kind apprentice to the town healer named Callie. Callie has problems of her own. Her mistress is also away, leaving her with a city full of children with mysterious and serious aliments. Oscar and Callie work together to determine the cause of the children's aliments, the power behind the ferocious beast, and the secret behind the missing wizard trees in the forest. All comes together in the end leaving Oscar with a new-found confidence, a potential career, and his first friend.
The Real Boy is a quiet, atmospheric mystery/fantasy. The writing is tight and consistent. Oscar shows plenty of character growth as the book unfolds and we root for him as his confidence in himself manifests. The premise is interesting and the thought of "wizard trees" and "magical children" intrigues me. The beast was cool, although I would have liked to see more of him. There are plot twists and turns that will keep the reader turning pages, but yet the book felt overly long. Both boys and girls would enjoy this book, but I would not recommend it to reluctant readers. It is too long and quiet for the average young reader. It is recommended to fantasy loving, patient readers who are longing to fall into a magical land.