Title: Here in the Real World
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Audience: Ages 8-12 years
Summary: A perfect summer awaits Ware. Staying with his grandmother in Florida while his parents work double shifts to buy their rental house, he anticipates time alone, observing things, building a medieval castle on his grandmother’s kitchen table, Then Big Deal, his grandmother, falls and requires a double hip replacement and Ware is back home with his parents facing a summer in the city recreation program. Ware likes to stand on the outside and observe; his mother wants him to have ‘meaningful social interaction’.
The first day at the Rec Center when the eleven-year-olds are running, Ware drops behind, climbs a tree, and discovers an abandoned church yard next door with a partially demolished church, a parking lot, and a yard that is being claimed by a belligerent gardener. Jolene is growing papayas in cans to raise money. She will allow Ware to stay only in the ruins of the sanctuary although Ware complains, “That’s not fair.” Each day after his mother drops him off at the rec center, he simply goes to the lot next door where he and Jolene make peace and began to reclaim the lot – Ware to turn the church into a medieval castle and Jolene to dig new gardening space.
Jolene, whose aunt once went to this church, tells Ware that the tub in the church is a do-over tub that will change a person instantly. Jolene’s experience with her aunt shows this doesn’t always work but sometimes it does. Ware hopes he can get a do-over if he cleans the rubble out of the tub so he will be more like the kind of child he thinks his parents want. He may become more social, more engaged. Jolene accuses him of living in Magic Fairness Land because he wants everything to be fair; she lives in the real world. While clearing the remains of the church Ware finds signs like “Be Not Afraid,” “Hope,” and “Are you leading a purpose driven life?” He wonders if any holiness is left in the church since all the people and the minister are gone..
Three events bring their established routine to a close. Teen-age Ashley arrives to survey the parking lot. Its resemblance to water is a hazard to migrating cranes and she wants the city to put up lights. Ware and Jolene promise that they will break up the asphalt and replace it with water. Ware sees this as both building a moat and a do-over tub. A bank representative puts an Auction sign on the fence; the lot will be turned into a strip mall. Ware’s Uncle Cy, a well know documentary film producer, arrives and discovers Ware is not going to the Rec center. When he sees the work the young people are doing he gives Ware a camera, instructing him to tell their story. The lot’s destruction for a strip mall is postponed because of an endangered turtle Ware photographs and the cranes have a place to land. There are still problems that will be resolved when Ware gets his reward for the summer.
Literary elements at work in the story: Short chapters made the book move rapidly. Making a moat to surround a wrecked church by two pre-teen young people seems problematic. Whether this is the fault of a dull reader or inadequate descriptions is uncertain. In a book that contrasts the real world with Ware’s, Magic Fairness Land seems less than realistic because of some of these challenges.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Jolene is a child abandoned to an alcoholic aunt. Poverty makes her life insecure and her outlook cynical. Ware, a child of a two-parent family buying a house, has stability and a superior education. Their perspectives on life are different. A Greek storekeeper is the only character from another culture.
Theological Conversation Partners: The contrast that runs through the book is between the Real World and Magic Fairness Land. Jolene’s experience makes her expect the worst; Ware wants to eliminate unfairness. For Christians who believe God is good and that God created a good world, this is an important question without an easy answer: Is the world fair? The book is almost a book of theology without God. Baptism; a do-over; a purpose driven life; the source of a church’s holiness are addressed here without any reference to God. For the Christian reader, Jolene’s explanations will leave some room for different interpretations. There are insights about art and the development of an artist. Considering the long history of art and the Christian faith, this may prove a valuable discussion. The book has golden moments of observation that provide conversation: when Jolene recognizes the uses of “who” and “that when talking about people and things; when Big Deal challenges Ware about making assumptions; when Jolene talks about the source of a candy wrapper.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Uncle Cy says that Ware is an artist. What characteristics indicate this?
- Recall places in the book when Ware’s empathy is evident. What impact does it have on him and his relationships?
- What is the difference between the real world and the Magic Fairness Land?
- Is there such a thing as fairness? When does it occur?
- Jolene describes baptism as an instant do-over and the baptistry as a sinners’ tub. How would you explain baptism to Jolene?
- When Ware finally tries to be re-born in the moat they have made, Jolene says, “You can’t do it by yourself.” She then puts Ware under the water. In what sense is she right?
- Is a church holy? What makes it so?
One of our most frequent book reviewers, we are grateful to Virginia C. Thomas for all her contributions to Storypath over the years. Her book Children’s Literature for All God’s Children (cowritten with Betty Davis Miller) recognized the value of chidren’s literature for talking about faith 25 years before Storypath began.
Here in the Real World by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.