Monday, December 19, 2011

Marcelo in the Real World [YA Book Review]

Let's Start At the Beginning

I've been approaching this YA Read-A-Thon that I'm doing in the month of December quite strangely. I asked for recommendations of realistic, or real-life, young adult novels and I have taken those recommendations blindly. I take the title and author given to me by strangers on the Internet, search out the book, pick it up and start reading. With each book I have absolutely no idea what I am about to read when I open the first pages. So far, it has turned out to be a pleasant experience, and rather exciting!

This has shown me the incredible importance of voice and first lines/paragraphs of a book. In Marcelo in the Real World I knew, by the third sentence that Marcelo was not a typical teenager like the protagonist of my previous read, Looking for Alaska. I think Francisco X. Stork should be applauded for this! Here are the first three sentences so you can see what I mean:
"Marcelo, are you ready?"
I lift up my thumb. It means that I am ready.
Did you catch it? It means that I am ready. Such a simple statement, but within it carries a bit of the story of Marcelo. Marcelo is someone who thinks that a "thumbs up" needs explaining. Now... what kind of kid would think that?

Of course, as the sentences continue we get more and more clues about the things Marcelo feels he needs to explain to us and the things that are said to him, but I am fascinated by the fact that even if I stopped right here, at the third sentence, and I thought about it I would already have some pretty good ideas about who Marcelo is.

But I digress...

Who Is Marcelo?

 Marcelo Sandoval is a junior in high school who is on the autism spectrum. Marcelo explains it in the following way,
From a medical perspective, the closest description of my condition is Asperger's syndrome. But I don't have many of the characteristics that other people with Asperger's syndrome have, so that term is not exactly accurate. (page 55)
Arturo, Marcelo's father, believes Marcelo is more than capable of functioning in the "real world" given the opportunity. On the other hand, Marcelo has been enrolled in a special school his entire life and doesn't want to leave.

A deal is struck. Arturo says that Marcelo can choose at the end of the summer whether or not he will go back to his special school in the Fall for his senior year, or attend a public high school for his senior year in high school if and only if he agrees to work in his law firm in the mail room and abide by the rules of the "real world" for the entire summer. Marcelo, who was looking forward to working with the horses at his school over the summer, is heart-broken and resistant to the idea, however, he decides the deal is fair as long as he can pick his own school no matter what happens over the summer.

The novel takes us through Marcelo's entire summer adventure in a first person perspective that shed's a light on Arturo's law firm that the "real world" oftentimes misses. Throughout the novel, as Marcelo asks questions to try to gain a greater understanding of the rules of the real world, he often leaves the real world with questions of its own. For this reason, Marcelo makes an impact almost everywhere he goes whether he realizes it or not. This is a coming of age story, but, surprisingly, it also has a bit of a mystery in it as well.

My Review

Marcelo is an amazing protagonist. His voice, while often characterized in our "real world" as special-needs, is portrayed in this novel as a perspective of child-like clarity. Right and wrong, and trust in fellow humans, have not been blurred by the compromises of age, experience or competition. At first, this seems like a weakness that will surely bring Marcelo down in the nitty-gritty world of a highly competitive law firm, but, in time, it serves as a pure lens through which to survey the world as it is. I was left wondering should Marcelo be learning the rules of the real world, or should we, in the "real world", be adapting to his rules?

Beyond Marcelo, there is a cast of characters serving various purposes in Marcelo's world - we have a love interest, a villain (I actually put down the book at one point and yelled, "This guy is such a scumbag!"), the villain's father, Marcelo's family, Marcelo's religious mentor (Marcelo is very interested in religion), a lawyer who seems to be a genuine "good guy" and a mysterious girl that Marcelo feels compelled to save. I was surprised by the depth of this book. As I kept reading further and further and the plot kept getting deeper and deeper I was amazed by all the story within.

This was an excellent read. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in coming of age stories and particularly anyone who has family members, friends, classmates, or students on the autism spectrum. Having finished the book more than a week ago, I can honestly say I miss Marcelo. He made me think different, and there are so many times in this life where that is the greatest gift of all.

Have you read Marcelo in the Real World?
If so, what was your perspective?
For those of you who know someone on the autism spectrum, what have you learned from them lately?
Who/what make you "think different"?

This book was read and reviewed as part of my YA Read-a-Thon. This December I am reading as many real-life YA novels as I can in one month's time! Join in, check out the list of books that were recommended to me HERE. Or check into my YA Read-A-Thon Store to buy the books from

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