Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

(How awesome would it be to have X as your middle initial? So awesome.)

Let’s get one thing straight – it’s Mar-se-lo, not Mar-chel-o. Because I know you were wondering. Marcelo is a teenager with a form of Asperger’s syndrome. It is difficult for him to recognize and convey emotion, he often slips into speaking of himself in third person, and he hears music inside his head that isn’t really there. He also finds solace in studying religion, especially holy texts and prayers, which he memorizes and then “remembers” when he wants to calm himself. He loves music, the school he attends, and the ponies at the school’s stables where he works.

Marcelo’s father has made it clear that he would like for Marcelo to try a year at public school. He arranges for Marcelo to work at his law firm over the summer rather than to continue in the stables, and insists that Marcelo needs to try living in the real world rather than his sheltered school environment. If Marcelo survives the summer, he can choose where he goes to school next fall. But the world Marcelo encounters in the law firm is different than anything he’s ever experienced before. Though difficult at first, he begins to adjust as he learns about good and evil, relationships, and trust. Before the summer is over, he finds himself faced with a choice between what is safe and what he feels like is right, a choice that could damage his relationship with his father as well as ending his chances of returning to his beloved school.

In the middle of this book, I was so discouraged, because I knew that, even though it was probably going to turn out all right, Marcelo was going to have to lose his innocence, to be disillusioned, to be hurt by people he thought he could trust. I had such a desire to protect him, to keep him from that pain. I know that was wrong, because Marcelo needed to take those next steps. But isn’t it a shame that when we talk about the “real world” we seem to refer to pain and heartbreak? To the loss of childhood, its innocence and fun? Francisco Stork, though, uses Marcelo to remind us that it is also about empowerment, about being able to fight for what is right and to stand up for yourself.

This is a wonderful book. I do think it got a little bit slow in the middle (dread alone isn’t usually enough to get me to put down a book), but Marcelo was an irresistible character and this is a powerful story. Recommended for people who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or who enjoy coming-of-age stories and beautiful writing.

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