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 acting editor in chief / 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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