Review of Here in the Real World

Here in the Real World
by Sara Pennypacker
Intermediate, Middle School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    309 pp.
2/20    978-0-06-269895-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-269897-1    $10.99

After his grandmother’s fall derails the family’s summer plans, eleven-year-old Ware’s parents sign him up for the town’s summer rec program. Ware, who loves medieval history and knights and chivalry, would just as soon spend his days alone; but then he meets a girl named Jolene outside the half-demolished church by the community center. Although she’s prickly and independent (and way tougher than he is), Ware realizes that she could use a friend. As her backstory slowly reveals, Jolene has lived with her abusive, alcoholic aunt since her mother abandoned her as a toddler. Now, with the church land on which Jolene’s income-producing garden sits about to be sold to developers, Ware comes up with an offbeat plan. With Jolene’s help, and the promise of assistance from a city counselor’s daughter (herself concerned with the proposed development’s detrimental effect on bird migration), he begins to dig a moat around what’s left of the church. Along the way, he confronts his parents about secrets they’ve kept and an overheard comment (“Why can’t we have a normal kid?”) while blossoming into his identity as an artist. The occasional disbelief-suspension required by Pennypacker’s story line is grounded by her characters’ multidimensionality and by Jolene’s wry outlook — “I keep forgetting! We’re in Magic Fairness Land!…Oh, no, darn. Still here in the real world.”

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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