Marcelo in the Real World
By Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
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.
Reminiscent of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.
Lately I have been stretching my arms and exploring titles that might normally fall under my radar. Everyone once in a while a book enters your life that reminds you with intense ferocity why it is important to step outside of our comfort zones. Marcelo in the Real World is a shining example of such book.
Able to hear music that no one else can, Marcelo is 17 and believed to fall within the highly functioning end of the autism spectrum, but has never received a clear diagnosis. He has been attending a specialized school Patterson where he has plans to participate in a summer job with the horses and graduate with his close circle of peers. His father has another idea though. One that he is not fond of. Marcelo will come to work in the law firm’s mailroom and gain some “real world” experience. It is here where Marcelo will meet a new group of individuals that will challenge his emotions and encourage him to explore human nature.
Marcelo is rare protagonist who offers a stunning glimpse into the life of a truly unique individual. An intelligent and kind soul with a very keen perception of the events surrounding him, he is often aware of when he is being labeled or treated differently by others. There is a tangible authenticity to Marcelo that is hard to describe. While he faces his own set of individualized dilemmas, it is easy to empathize with him and understand his actions.
The plot is straightforward in the sense that we have a father who wants his young son to learn to properly function within society, yet Marcelo does not want to leave the familiar. A common scenario with many parents and their children. We slowly nudge them out into the real world to help prepare them for the future the best that we can. While I did find myself frustrated with his father’s actions at times, I still appreciated the motivation behind them.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Marcelo in the Real World was Marcelo’s actual journey of self discovery. Through a series of events and interactions with his new co-workers, we witness a young man navigate the challenges of life ranging from acceptance and love to moral obligations and right and wrong. While not without hurdles, Marcelo’s story is one that truly opens the eyes to human nature and life. Soliciting a wide range of emotions from frustration to adoration, the reading experience feels complete and memorable.
With a pragmatic approach, the writing style compliments Marcelo’s story in an effective and engaging manner. The author has achieved a voice in Marcelo that feels real. There is something to be said about this simplistic and honest tone that invites the reader into Marcelo’s life with very open arms.
Marcelo in the Real World is worth more than its weight in terms of protagonist alone. Enter with an open mind and leave with a satisfying experience. This a feel good read that will play on all of the best emotions and offer a different but refreshing outlook on life and its obstacles.