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30 November 2020 HERE IN THE REAL WORLD by Sara Pennypacker, HarperCollins/Balzer and Bray, February 2020, 320 p., ISBN: 978-0-06-269895-7


What Ware accidentally heard his mother ask his father:

“Why can’t we have a normal kid?”


“The Power of Solitude

There’s a lot of power in allowing both children and adults to spend time by themselves. Experiencing solitude helps individuals learn certain tasks, think creatively, and deal with their emotions. The right amount of time spent alone can even improve empathy and social skills.”

-- from psychcentral.com (2018)


“We can beat them, just for one day.”

-- David Bowie, “Heroes” (1977)


“When his parents bought this place at the end of the summer, they’d own this backyard, too. The lounge chairs could be broken down to make armor. The shed would work as a throne room. The picnic table could be a drawbridge once he sawed off the legs. He’d turn the narrow side yard into a barbican, the courtyard of deathly obstacles for attackers. No boiling oil, obviously, but definitely a catapult. He’d notch toeholds in the wooden fence and take running leaps to claim the top, mounting the ramparts it was called. This last was such a satisfying image, he replayed it, this time in classic knight’s stance: chin up, chest out, advance boldly. 

Ware dropped to the picnic table and stretched out. Sometimes he wished he lived back in the middle ages. Things were a lot simpler then, anyway, especially if you were a knight. Knights had a rule book--their code of chivalry--that covered everything. Thou shalt always do this, thou shalt never be that. If you were a knight, you knew where you stood.”


As his parents scrambled to finally achieve their home-buying goal, Ware began his first summer of staying with his beloved grandmother, Big Idea. Then his grandmother fell and broke both of her hips. Suddenly, she’s heading for a summer of surgery and rehab. As a result, Ware is now stuck returning to the same rec program he’s been shuffled off to every summer since he was a little kid. 


Ware’s mother is determined that he engage in meaningful social interactions. But Ware really enjoys spending lots of time alone. His disappointment over being forced to return to the rec program, rather than getting to stay home alone, leads Ware to play hooky and begin an ongoing deception about how he is spending his summer days.


Near the rec center, he has discovered a quirky girl named Jolene who's creating a garden in an empty lot adjoining an abandoned, semi-razed church. Jolene, who sees herself rooted in the “real world,” has a grand scheme to grow papayas from seed and sell the harvests. She’s already sprouted scores of baby papaya trees that she’s tending to in the used snack containers she collects from the local bar.


Jolene is protective of her garden, but she and Ware come to an understanding that Ware can do his own thing at the destroyed church. He imagines it as a future castle. In trying to bring order to the chaos, he digs through all sorts of artifacts that were left behind, and he begins to fashion the wreckage into his own imaginary edifice. 


But their idyllic daily routines are rudely disrupted when the “Auction Coming” sign appears on the perimeter of their playworld property.


Jolene falls into despair over the fact that their refuge may become off-limits at any moment. And what is Ware’s reaction? He relies upon a rule from the Knight’s Code he’s learned: “Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and the Good.” He pledges to Jolene that he will somehow save her garden.


But how is he going to accomplish that? Fortunately, Ware’s semi-famous Uncle Cyrus shows up for a timely visit. Uncle Cy offers Ware a valuable perspective, along with some practical tools. Ware thereby feels empowered to uphold his knightly commitments. 


HERE IN THE REAL WORLD is a coming of age story in which two kids, both of whom feel unwanted by their caregivers, learn to be there for one another, and to make a difference in the world.


Young people who thrive on spending time alone will find a supportive message here. And I love the idealism of trying to live up to the code of chivalry. There is also a strong environmental component as Jolene is an obsessive recycler and composter, and an expert on refuse. (There’s a bizarrely amusing story thread regarding the disposition of the old hips that Ware’s grandmother has had replaced.) 


HERE IN THE REAL WORLD is a fun and fulfilling read for 9-14 year olds.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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