Here in the Real World

by Sara Pennypacker (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Ware can't wait to spend summer "off in his own world"--dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called "normal" kids do. On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot. Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer--he doesn't live in the "real world" like she does.

As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge. But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights' Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good--and vows to save the lot. But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?

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Smooth prose and short chapters make for a compulsively readable tale, fit for middle-graders in the process of discovering themselves.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

When Ware's grandmother falls and breaks her hip, the idle summer that the relentlessly scheduled 11-and-a-half-year-old was looking forward to is canceled. His parents make last-minute arrangements for him to attend a community center camp, instead, a prospect that prompts "the familiar contracting retreat of the thing that lived deep in his chest, which must be his soul." Impulsively, Ware escapes to the rubbled remains of a nearby church--the perfect place for the Middle Ages-obsessed boy to build his own medieval refuge while pretending to attend camp. The space is already occupied, however: prickly Jolene has claimed it as a garden to grow papayas that she'll sell to make up for her aunt "drinking the rent." The two establish an uneasy truce, agreeing to share the space at a distance, until they must join forces to prevent the intrusion of the real world by way of a looming crisis. Pennypacker's humane tale is written with straightforward grace and populated with exquisitely layered characters; vulnerable, imaginative Ware's journey to self-acceptance is particularly skillfully rendered. Ages 8-12. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 4-6--Eleven-year old Ware prefers daydreaming about knights and the Middle Ages to socializing, a personality quirk that worries his overworked parents. Because he is happy to spend most days "off in his own world," his parents agree to let him spend the summer with his grandma. But when she breaks her hips in an accident at home, his promise of a peaceful summer is disrupted as his parents sign him up for the dreaded recreation camp. Overwhelming, loud, and full of the forced interactions and "funneration" that he hates, Ware avoids the camp by hiding out in the abandoned lot next door to the building. There he meets Jolene, a smart, secretive girl who spends her days planting a garden in the rubble of the church that once stood in the lot. Together, the two form a tentative connection; Jolene planting her garden, and Ware creating a castle from the ruins of the church. When their shared sanctuary is threatened by outside forces, the titular "real world," Ware and Jolene's relationship deepens into a delicate friendship as they band together to save the lot. This sweet, sensitive book shines a light on the introverts and misfits. Despite wishing he could live up to his parents' desire for a "normal" kid, Ware's unique personality is validated by a kindred spirit, his uncle, who suggests that he is an artist with his own vision of the world. Ware's quiet sensibility blends well with Jolene, who's tough exterior comes from hardship and an abusive relative. VERDICT Perfect for fans of Pennypacker's earlier novels Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Pax. Recommended for purchase in most libraries.--Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Publication date
February 20, 2020
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV039050 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Emotions & Feelings
JUV051000 - Juvenile Fiction | Imagination & Play
Library of Congress categories
Friendship in children
Imagination in children
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books starred, 02/01/20

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