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Marcelo in the Real World
Francisco X. Stork
March 1, 2009
320 pages
Young Adult Fiction
My Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear–part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify–and he’s always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm’s mailroom in order to experience “the real world.” There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.

He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file — a picture of a girl with half a face — that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

I had heard very little about Marcelo in the Real World when I received it for review.  The only thing I knew about the book was that it was about a teenage boy with an Autism-spectrum disorder, and that it had been compared to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I read years ago and enjoyed tremendously.  Well, Marcelo in the Real World definitely is similar to Haddon’s book, but in my opinion, it is a MUCH better book.  There were just so many wonderful things about this novel that I am not sure I can properly explain what I liked about it.  But I will certainly try.

First of all, Marcelo was SUCH a likable character.  I mean, it would be pretty impossible not to fall in love with him from the first page.  He just had such pure intentions, such a good heart, and he was truly a wonderful person.  I couldn’t help but feel for him as he made his way through the confusing “real world” as he called it.  It bothered me so much how his father treated him – not to worry, there was no abuse or anything – but his dad just had no understanding of how Marcelo saw the world.  His dad had no compassion for how Marcelo’s mind worked, how he thought about the events surrounding him, and how he organized his thoughts and processed what went on around him.  Even a simple thing like a conversation about the events of the day would turn into frustration and confusion for Marcelo and his father – he didn’t understand his son and honestly didn’t seem to really try to understand him.  It was sad to read about, because I can only imagine the millions of children and teens living with Autism, Asperger’s, and other similar disorders, who have the same struggles with their own parents.  The interactions between Marcelo and his dad really opened my eyes to these issues.

I truly enjoyed reading about Marcelo’s interactions with all the characters in this book.  Each person in Marcelo’s life offered a different perspective for him to think about, different slang terms to consider and try to understand, and a different way to relate to the world and his loved ones in it.  For example, his relationship with his mother was totally different from his relationship with his father, which was also so different from his relationship with Jasmine, etc.  The way Marcelo perceived all these different people and formulated his understanding of them was so well done by Stork – I really felt like I was in Marcelo’s head the entire time.

The pacing of this novel was absolutely perfect as well.  The book wasn’t long at all, yet there was more than enough time for the reader to get to know the characters, figure out how everyone fit together, and then start to care about them.  By the end of the book I was really rooting for both Marcelo and Jasmine and hoping that Wendell would get what he deserved (in a bad way – he was a slimeball).

I can’t say enough about Marcelo in the Real World.  I found it to be an expertly written novel, completely entertaining and enjoyable, and I truly got involved in the book and its characters.  I really loved the book and I absolutely would recommend it for all readers.

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