Here in the Real World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Here in the Real World Book Poster Image
Funny, relatable tale of tweens gardening in the ruins.

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Kids say

age 8+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

From medieval chivalry to the migration habits of birds and the cultivation of papayas, there's a lot of intriguing stuff in this story that's presented appealingly and invites further exploration. Ware shares a lot about correct grammar, such as the difference between "who" and "that."

Positive Messages

Strong messages of friendship, working together, creative thinking, and mutual support. Knightly chivalry adapted to today's world is a strong theme. So is expanding your horizons to include people in your life whose circumstances and experiences are very different from your own and enlarge your perspective.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Introverted Ware, a bit of a worry wart, is kind and empathetic. He's less than candid with his parents that he's ditching the rec center every day to work with Jolene. He likes to take time observing things, thinking through before acting, which often clashes with Jolene's brash, driven determination. They discover quite a lot, become excellent collaborators. They meet teen "rich girl" Ashley, who, moved by video of a wildlife disaster, has been on a mission to save migrating birds ever since. Ware's parents are supportive, loving, frazzled by working double shifts so they can buy a house -- are also extroverted rah-rah types who don't understand their kid's preference for quiet. Another tween, abandoned by her parents and left in the "care" of an aunt who's a drunk. A kindly bartender offers the kids support, wisdom, ginger ale.

Violence & Scariness

The summer's events are set in motion when Ware's grandmother falls and breaks her hips. In the past, a mother abandons her 5-year-old child, goes to seek her fortune in Nashville. Looming over the kids and their grand project is the fact that a bank is about to auction the property and knock it all down. Fear that migrating birds will break their legs en masse drives the kids to solve a problem.


Occasional "crap." In one scene, Ware and Jolene try to outdo each other with lists of things ancient civilizations used urine for.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Here in the Real World is an appealing, insightful middle grade tale of two quirky, relatable 11-year-olds, written by Sara Pennypacker (Pax). It's a summer of discovery (self- and otherwise) as bookish Ware meets determined, scrappy Jolene in the parking lot of a ruined church. Knightly ideals meet real-life troubles, and Ware is fascinated with the idea of baptism and how it might turn him into a kid his go-getter parents would actually understand. As the story unfolds, we learn a lot about chivalry, history, migrating birds, ecosystems, gardening -- and fine points of grammar. There's some trauma and tragedy involved -- the tween who was abandoned by her mom at 5 now lives with a hard-drinking aunt, and scrounges to keep them alive. Tweens occasionally say "crap" and obsess over the uses ancient civilizations found for urine. There are strong messages of friendship, kindness, empathy, teamwork, being who you are, and accepting others as they are.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old January 12, 2021


I highly recommend this amazing book. It has grate role models and cool bird facts.

What's the story?

It's the start of the summer in Florida. Eleven-year-old Ware's parents are working double shifts all summer so that they can buy their house, and he's looking forward to a quiet time with his grandmother where he can read his books about knights in peace. But HERE IN THE REAL WORLD, things can go awry: His grandmother has a fall and breaks both hips, and Ware's soon back home being forced into a daily program of Meaningful Social Interaction and other normal-kid activities. Just like every year. Only this year, he decides he's had enough, ditches the regimentation, and ducks behind a tree -- where he discovers a girl his age trying to grow papaya plants in the parking lot of a ruined church. Things get interesting fast, and opportunities to practice chivalry crop up frequently.

Is it any good?

Sara Pennypacker's funny, relatable tale of two misfit tweens and their transformative summer on a ruined church property in Florida will resonate with lots of  young readers. Especially those with strong views about how things ought to be who are constantly being told that Here in the Real World things don't work that way. Very little in this tale goes exactly as the characters would wish, but it goes to some profoundly satisfying places and makes some great connections.

"'No, Jolene. We won't let it happen. You won't lose this garden.'

"'What are you talking about?'

"What was he talking about?

"Ware suddenly saw page eleven in his report. Number twelve seemed to be lit up. Thou shalt always be the champion of the Right and the Good, against Injustice.

"That's what he was talking about.

"This was Injustice, all right. He needed to be a champion of the Right and the Good.

"This was, in fact, the purpose that would drive his life, he was suddenly certain.

"He pulled himself up tall. 'I won't let it happen, Jolene. I will save your garden.'

"Jolene snorted. 'How are you going to do that?'

"'I don't know yet. But I will. You won't lose your garden. I pledge.'

"'You pledge?'

"'Promise. I promise.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about tales like Here in the Real World, in which a summertime friendship has lots of life-changing effects for the kids involved and the people around them. Why do you think summertime stories -- which often involve people being out of their normal routine -- are so popular? What other examples have you read or watched?

  • What do you know about sandhill cranes and their long yearly migrations? Now that you've read Here in the Real World and heard about them from Ashley, do you want to learn more?

  • Ware sometimes struggles with how to make the principles of medieval knighthood work in today's world. Do you ever think that some of today's rules and customs may have been great in the past, but now it's time for something different?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of friendship and family

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