Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

“All these years, it wasn’t really necessary for you to go to Paterson.  You don’t really belong there.  I know you realize this yourself.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  You just move at a different speed than other kids your age.  But in order for you to grow and not get stuck, you need to be in a normal environment.  It is time.  Here is what I propose: If you work at the law firm this summer, then at the end of the summer, you decide whether you want to spend your senior year at Paterson or at Oak Ridge High…

‘There’s just one thing.’ I see him pick up his glass of wine and raise it to his lips.  This time his words come out very slow. ‘You can do what you want in the fall…’ He waits for my eyes to meet his eyes and then he continues. ‘But this summer you must follow all the rules of the…real world.'”

Seventeen-year-old Marcelo goes to a private school for young people with disabilities.  There, he learns academic skills and practical life skills, such as making small talk and interpreting other people’s facial expressions.  At Paterson, he is safe and supported.  He does not get lost or overwhelmed, or worried that he cannot finish tasks fast enough.  However, his father believes that he needs to be challenged.  Instead of tending the therapeutic horses at Paterson, Marcelo is to work at his father’s law firm for the summer.  If he does well, his father will allow him to go back to Paterson for his final year of high school.  If he doesn’t follow the so-called “real-world” rules, he will be placed in a public high school.

Marcelo is often confused and dismayed by the competition, brutality, and insensitivity he encounters in the firm.  When he finds a discarded photo of a young woman scarred by broken glass, he is confronted with an ethical dilemma for which he has had no preparation.  The evidence he uncovers can potentially destroy his father’s firm, and if Marcelo tells anyone, it would be breaking his promise to his father about following the rules.   Marcelo must sort out his feelings about justice and loyalty before he can decide what to do.

Oh, this book! This incredible book!  It is a special one, for many reasons.  First, Marcelo’s disorder is never named, and we learn of his minority status halfway through the novel.  This allows us to meet the real Marcelo, without getting distracted by his ethnicity or disability.  Yes, he has an autism-spectrum disorder, but to the readers, it is clear that he is a human first.  Secondly, his voice is disarming.  He is precise, though not emotionless, and often naive, but never sentimentally so.  Finally, the story deals with the Big Issues: suffering, ethics, and family, without being didactic or reductive.  It is part legal thriller, part the-most-understated-romance-you’ll-ever-read, and part coming-of-age story.

Please, read this.  I know you’ll love Marcelo.  Francisco Stork, in an afterword, describes his experiences working with individuals with disabilities, and he said that this book is a small thank you for all of their gifts.  It’s an award-winner, too! It’s a YALSA Best Book, but was also a recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an outstanding depiction of a child’s or adolescent’s experience with disability.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.franciscostork.co

Stork, Francisco X.  Marcelo in the Real World. Arthur A. Levine: New York, 2009. 312 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, you might like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeabout a young man with Asperger’s and a mystery. It’s one that I love!  I also think you might also like The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd.

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