Saturday 6 February 2021

Here in the Real World - Sara Pennypacker

 If you like books with lots of action, thrilling chase scenes and rollicking adventure then this may not be the right book for you. The plot is very simple, two children who feel like misfits find a refuge - an abandoned church lot -  and when it is threatened the boy tries to save it. It is much more about the development and growth of the character Ware over a summer and how he finds his voice.

Ware is a boy who prefers his own company and dreads the "meaningful social interaction" that his parents believe is essential for him. He determines that to please them he needs to be "reborn" as the boy they want him to be, but through the course of the book and the characters he develops relationships with - Jolene, the girl with the garden - who tells him he needs to live in the real world; his Uncle Cyrus - who sees his potential and his Grandma (Big Deal) - who urges him to ask questions and use his voice - he comes to see that he doesn't need to become something else, he needs to become the person he actually is.

I thought this was beautifully written. The chapters are short so you fly through them. Aimed at 9 years and up, I think adults will also enjoy the story, younger children may struggle with the slow pace and lack of action. It's a story that rewards your attention, there are sections where characters see or hear things that make you as a reader think "Oh no!" but it's understandable that the characters don't immediately grasp the consequences of what they are seeing or saying.

For example, right at the beginning of the story, Ware is floating in the pool at his Grandma's living complex and an ambulance arrives. He telegraphs the words "Don't be afraid" to the person on the stretcher and you as the reader are (virtually) screaming "Get out of the pool!"

I also loved how Ware - who thinks he is so different to his parents and not the boy that they want him to be - is actually more like them than he realises - he quotes his Dad towards the end of the book, something I picked up on the second read.

Some of the observations from Ware are spot on - How "Joining in" with other children, "is a matter of geography to grown-ups" a few steps either way does the trick.

My favourite lines probably come from Ware slowly working out who he is and who he wants to be:- "Everything was something else before and will be something else after."

...and also from Ware's friendship with Jolene - the girl who is growing papayas in the church lot -  their relationship develops slowly, she has quite a spiky personality and isn't afraid to call Ware out:- 

"You spend a lot of time imagining things that aren't going to happen," Jolene said. 

There is a contrast and a friction between them - Ware wants to believe in a world with knights and chivalry, or at least a world where he can adapt those ideals; whereas Jolene has a stark view of what is and isn't possible. I think Ware offers her hope and an alternative way of looking at things, and she offers him practicality, she challenges him to offer real solutions to their problems and not dreams.

I think that this is a book that rewards the reader. I think if a young person reads it and enjoys it, I could see it as a comfort read, a book that they come back to again and again.