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BOOK REVIEWS, Coming of Age, Friendship, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Realistic Fiction, Self-Image/Self-Esteem, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

HERE IN THE REAL WORLD by Sara Pennypacker

I was not excited to read this book. I enjoyed Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series with my kids when they were younger, but–and I am in the minority here–I did not like Pax; in fact, I DNF’d it. When Here in the Real World was chosen by my Mock Newbery group as the April read, and I looked at the cover and brief synopsis I was not thrilled and I dragged my feet in starting to read it. I got the audiobook from the library, started it on April 18th…and finished it on April 18th. I listened to the ENTIRE story in one sitting. I just didn’t want to stop.

Ware is a neurologically non-typical 11-year-old. His father loves sports; Ware doesn’t. His mother is a Crisis Manager who loves schedules and planning; Ware doesn’t. Ware is sensitive and empathetic to a level that is almost detrimental to his own well-being. He is often described by others as being lost ‘in his own world.’ Due to an incident at the beginning of the book, Ware’s parents have enrolled him in a summer day camp at the Rec Center. Ware has attended this program the last couple years, and hates it. He gathers his courage to try and have a persuasive conversation with his parents stating why he doesn’t want to go and accidentally overhears a part of his parents’ conversation in which his mother says “Why can’t we just have a normal kid?” Ware is understandably devastated.

At the Rec Center Ware notices an abandoned church in the lot next door. Fascinated with medieval knights and their code of behavior, the church conjures visions of a castle kingdom in Ware’s imagination. He meets Jolene, a young girl with her own issues, planting a unique type of garden in the lot and together they negotiate both a friendship and a transformation of the abandoned lot. Ware begins this process by discovering that the baptistry of the church remains and Jolene informs him it was used to let people start their lives over. Ware takes this literally and forms a plan wherein he can restore the baptistry and find a way to invoke the ‘starting over’ process that will give him a new life–as a ‘normal kid.’

Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, Ware’s journey eventually leads him to the realization that he doesn’t really want to be a different person; he wants to feel as if the person he IS is an okay person to be. He’s searching for acceptance from the others around him who often misinterpret his behavior or intentions and from himself as well. Here in the Real World is about acknowledging and affirming who you are as an individual. It explores the reality that “here in the real world” bad things happen and we can’t always fix them in the way we’d like–but that is not a reason to abandon hope or each other. Small contributions make a difference–even if it’s a small difference.

Here in the Real World is a brilliant independent or read-aloud choice at home or in the classroom. Ware’s story offers readers the opportunity to identify and empathize with feeling like you are disappointing those you desperately love (and want to love you) and the courage to embrace your authentic self and everything that means for how you exist in this world. I absolutely love Ware’s character and I know he will stay with me in the way all the best characters do!

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