I loved Breadcrumbs, the first book I read by Anne Ursu. Her writing is amazing, it really draws you in. The friendship between the two main characters in that book was powerful. The same type of friendship is found in The Real Boy, with Callie and Oscar.
Oscar is an unusual boy, who most people treat as "less than". He believes there is something wrong with him, something missing, but he doesn't know what it is. Callie is a true friend. She sees Oscar for who he really is and realizes that there is something different about him. She never holds that against him, but rather encourages him to try new things.
They live in a forest called the Barrow. The Barrow is the last place where magic exists. The Barrow surrounds a city, Asteri, where the "shining people" live. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician and Callie is an apprentice to the village healer. Oscar has a simple, predictable life and he likes it that way. The real world is too predictable and he doesn't want to deal with that. (It almost seemed like he had a form of autism from the way he acted).
The people of the Barrow provide magical services to the shining people of the city. But, at what point do they rely too much on magic? The shining people reject reality and want to live in a fantasy world of magic. When reality intrudes, neither the shining people nor the villagers in the Barrow deal with it well. Oscar and Callie aren't leaders in the Barrow, but they are the ones who see what is happening and they are the only ones who try to act to make a difference.
This is a beautiful fantasy story where the real magic is found in the friendship of the main characters.
Grades 3 - 7 (and up). Fans of fantasy and friendship stories, where the little guy makes a big difference.