Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker : a quick review and summary. This is a wonderful new middle grade novel for kids who like realistic fiction.
We are big fans of both Pax and the beloved Clementine series, so we were excited when Harper Collins sent a copy of Here in the Real World (affiliate link), Sara Pennypacker’s newest book, for us to read and review. I read it aloud with my three girls (ages 10 to 14) and we have a lot of good things to say about it!
One night, when we were about 1/3 of the way through the book, I paused our reading and said, “Do you know what this book reminds me of?” But before I could explain, both Eila and Esme blurted out “Bridge to Terabithia,” which was EXACTLY what I was going to say! Clearly, there’s something to that comparison.
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
Eleven-year-old Ware is a thoughtful, introverted kid with a big imagination. His parents are busy working double shifts to earn enough money to buy their rental house.
Ware was supposed to spend the summer with his grandmother known as “Big Deal.” But, when Big Deal breaks her hip and is put in a long-term care facility, Ware’s parents send him to a summer camp at the local rec center.
This is a nightmare for Ware.
He can’t stand the crowd of kids, being trapped inside all day, and all the group games and activities go against his very introverted nature. He escapes one day into the abandoned lot next door where he discovers a half-demolished church and a burgeoning papaya garden that belongs to Jolene, a tough girl with a chip on her shoulder.
Ware soon realizes that while his parents think he is at the rec center, he can actually spend his days in the abandoned lot, which feels wide with possibility to him. Ware dreams of turning the demolished church into his very own castle, even as Jolene derides him for living in “Magic Fairness Land,” rather than “Here, in the Real World” where she is firmly planted. But the more time they spend together, the more Ware and Jolene begin to form a truly deep friendship and understanding of one another.
Jolene is a lonely kid working through abandonment issues and other family hardships. Ware struggles because he feels misunderstood by his parents who want him to be more social, more outgoing, more athletic. As the two kids create their own version of Terabithia in the old parking lot, they begin to heal parts of themselves too.
Unfortunately, their haven is threatened when a developer announces plans to bulldoze the lot and rebuild. This time, however, the kids decide they are going to be the heroes in their own story.
The real world is also all the things we do about the bad stuff. We’re the real world too.” – Ware to Jolene
While the ending is not at all tragic like Bridge to Terabithia, it’s definitely not as predictable as you think it’s going to be.
Here in the Real World was a five star read for me and the kids! It’s one of those books that makes your heart grow little bit bigger with every page. Beautiful writing paired with rich storytelling and imagination make this book a classic-in-the-making.
I love the boy-girl friendship, the imaginative and adventurous world the kids create for themselves, and the ultimate message of self acceptance.
There was a lot of humor sprinkled throughout the book, which the kids really loved (and I love when a book makes them laugh out loud!). And more than one of us over here really identified with Ware’s introvert struggles.
I especially appreciated the way Pennypacker embraced a slower and quieter pace. In today’s world where kids are so busy and connected, with constant activities and social media, I loved that this was a story about two kids with nothing to do on hot summer afternoons in an old abandoned lot. It’s the perfect set-up for the rich creativity that the kids tap into in that quiet, slow space. Best of all, there’s nary a mention of social media in the whole book!
I highly recommend this one for independent readers from 4th grade to 8th grade, and as a read aloud for 3rd grade and up. You can find it here on Amazon.
If you liked Here in the Real World, you may also like these books:
- Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt
- Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
- The Collectors by Jacqueline West
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.