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.

Advertisements

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

The indomitably hopeful one!

The girl of unyielding optimism!

The teen of merriment!

The fan favorite!

Your undisputed champion! 

‘Amber-Rock Star of Hope-Apple-TOOOOOOOOOON!'”

“Maybe I am a freak-but I’m one hopeful misfit, and you could be worse things in this world.  True? True.”

Amber Appleton lives on the school bus that her mom drives during the day.  They’ve been there ever since her mom’s latest boyfriend kicked them out of the house.  It gets pretty cold at night, and Amber gets scared when her mom heads out to bars and leaves her alone, but it’s not Amber’s style to get bummed out about her sad life.  She’s not like that.  Instead, she’s too busy singing and doing English lessons with the Korean Divas for Christ, standing up to the school board, kicking quarterback Lex in the shins just to “maintain the balance of power within the student body so that evil doesn’t get out of control”, duking it out in a weekly word-battle for hope with the Nietzsche-quoting Debbie Downer, Joan of Old, at the nursing home, and writing haikus about dogs for a Vietnam War veteran who slammed the door in her face once. She sasses the school principal and soothes herself to sleep with the handful of good memories of happy times with her mother.   That’s the kind of girl she is: sorta like a rock star.

Amber has a seemingly bottomless well of sincere enthusiasm and concern for those around her, spending her life cheering others on.  She forms friendships with the weakest and most vulnerable people in her community:  veterans, old men and women in a nursing home, Korean immigrants, students with special needs.  But it’s not out of a sense of duty, or with any thought for herself.  It’s because, as Amber puts it, “I dig lighting up people’s faces.”  However, when tragedy strikes, the aptly-named Princess of Hope needs the support of everyone in her community-and even that may not be enough to keep her going.

This is my new favorite book and the single best thing I’ve read to date.  That’s a really big statement, but I mean it!  It’s four in the morning now, and I’ve been agonizing over what quote to start out with, because I really hope you all will love this book as much as I do, and I needed to find the perfect starter!  You see, Amber is amazing.  She’s quirky, buoyant, and irrepressible-and she manages to be all of this without the slightest trace of Pollyanna saccharinity.  Because, honestly, all of that goodness could be pretty irritating to read about, but that’s not Amber Appleton at all.  She’s offbeat-smiling at people when she’s biking, doting over her dog (Thrice B), making kick-ass omelets, and her own silver prom dress- all the while freaking out about her alcoholic mother and living in a school bus.

This book champions sincerity and belief in a greater good, which is a pretty incredible take, considering the customary tone of books covering the heavy stuff, like alcoholism, violent crime, and homelessness. While the plot is original, and the characters are all interesting and multi-dimensional, it’s really Amber’s voice that brings the story to life.  I know you’re gonna love her!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://matthewquickwriter.com

Quick, Matthew. Sorta Like a Rock Star. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2010. 355 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

All right, if you loved this one, you might want to try Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.  It has the same feeling to it!

Oh, I hope you love this book!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

“1. Why would you kill a dog?

a) Because you hated the dog.

b) Because you were mad.

c) Because you wanted to make Mrs. Shears upset.

2. I didn’t know anyone who hated Wellington, so if it was (a) it was probably a stranger.

3. I didn’t know any mad people, so if it was (b) it was also probably a stranger.

4.  Most murders are committed by someone who is known to the victim…This is a fact.  Wellington was therefore most likely to have been killed by someone known to him.

5. If it was (c) I only knew one person who didn’t like Mrs. Shears, and that was Mr. Shears, who knew Wellington very well indeed.”

This is a fabulously popular murder mystery, written by Mark Haddon, in the voice of Christopher, a fifteen  (and three months and two days) year old.  The dog next door has been killed during the night, and he sets out to do some detective work, like his idol, Sherlock Holmes.  He talks to the neighbors (even though his father forbids it) and gathers evidence, and eventually uncovers something that takes his life in a surprising new turn.

Christopher has special needs: he doesn’t like to be touched, the color yellow, or foods that touch each other.  He likes prime numbers, the color red, and similes (but not metaphors).  Sometimes navigating the world is difficult for him, and to be honest, it’s not the mystery part of this book that’s amazing: it’s Christopher’s voice.  He’s unfailingly honest (lies make him nervous), and his perspective is disarming and endearing, occasionally pitiable.

I’m a little behind the game with this book: I picked it up a few years ago, and was horrified by the murdered dog on page 5, and then dropped it.  But this time, I’m on vacation, and read through my six day book supply in the first two days, so I had to start in on my mom’s books.  I held my breath, and once I got past poor Wellington’s death, I fell in love with Christopher and his view of the world.

This book has won over seventeen awards, but I’ve been having trouble finding a complete list.  I do know it’s an Alex award recipient, which is the prize for books written for adults that have a special appeal for young adults.   It’s short and really engaging: a great way to spend an afternoon, especially if you are a fan of prime numbers, awesome diagrams, dogs, Sherlock Holmes, and unconventional narrators.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.markhaddon.com/

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Vintage Books: New York, 2003. 224 pp. Grades 10-up.

 

Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji

“The war-if there ever was one-was over, but the curfew was still in effect.  Every evening at the stroke of six, the lights in every house and every street were extinguished.  And when night fell, the seven hills of Kampala were trapped under what seemed to Sabine like a big black burkha that wrapped them all in the dark while the countdown snared its prey.”

In 1972, the president of Uganda announced a countdown:  the British Indians within the country have ninety days to get out.  Sabine is Indian by heritage, but she and her mother, father, and brother are Ugandan citizens, so they are hoping that they’re safe.  However, things get complicated when Sabine’s uncle disappears and she suspects it’s because he’s been imprisoned, or worse.  To make things more confusing, Sabine and her best friend, who is a Ugandan, fight about their loyalties.

Through it all, Sabine tries to be brave for her family, take care of her little brother, and understand the racism and socio-economic divide between the Indians and Ugandans in Uganda.  In the end, she finds herself growing and being stronger and braver than she ever thought was possible.

There’s a lot going on in this book: political strife, a government kidnapping, racism, class tensions, issues with gender identity and special needs, and fights between friends.  I actually think that each separate thread in the novel could be a story in itself, but the setting is interesting and not very well-known.  That alone makes the story worth reading.

Author’s website: http://www.snanji.com/

Nanji, Shenaaz. Child of Dandelions. Front Street Books: Honesdale, PA, 2008. 214 pages. Ages 12-16.  ISBN 978-1932425932.

If you like this book, try Chain of Fire by Beverly Naidoo, or Frances Temple’s Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti.