Sunday, July 3, 2011

Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2009 (Hardcover)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 28, 2011
Finished: July 1, 2011

From the back of the book:
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.

I can't remember why I finally decided to pick this book up, but I'm soooooo glad I did, this is one of those amazing YA books you come across that you just become an advocate for, not that it really needs it, but I'm sure the book would appreciate it.

Marcelo Sandoval is 17 years old, and is on the highly functioning end of the autism spectrum (so more Aspergers than Autism I suppose). His mother and sister are very supportive, but his father, who is a co-partner in his own law firm, denies that his son has anything wrong with him that deserves a label. His father insists that Marcelo spend his summer working in the mail room at the law firm instead of working with the therapy horses at the special private school Marcelo attends, thinking this will help expose his son to the 'real world' instead of the protected environment of the special school. Marcelo is highly functioning, so he acclimates to the law office without any hassle, helped by his co-worker Jasmine, but he does question the things he sees. When he discovers proof that his father's firm is helping cover up evidence of a manufacturer of faulty products which led to human injury, he feels very conflicted as to what he should do. His religious nature tells him that he must do the right thing to help the girl in the photograph he found, but he knows that in the process he will also hurt his father and affect other good people that work at the firm. Marcelo must also come to terms with what he wants to do with his life, to follow the internal music he hears to its end without being influenced by the opinions of others.

This book is beautifully written, mainly as a result of Marcelo's narration. Marcelo is a highly functioning autistic, and if you've ever had exposure to this type of person (I've taught autistic children of various levels of functionality), the first thing you'd notice is how realistically he is portrayed and yet how the author manages to make his character stand out. Some of Marcelo's quirks are typical of a highly functioning autistic: difficulty in adjusting to changes in routine without doing so gradually, avoiding looking people in the eye, and also the various social aspects. Marcelo is highly intelligent, as well as religious (not in the bible-thumping kind, it's more that he is very well versed in all kinds of religions). He also lives in a tree house (so cool), and wants to work in therapy for special needs children.

Once you get to know Marcelo, you really become involved in his exposure to the evils of the real world; things that are black and white to Marcelo (this is right, this is wrong), are all shades of gray to everyone else, which puzzles him. He's kind of naive too, and doesn't realize for example that people use sex for evil purposes, or hurt animals just for fun. Essentially Marcelo learns that everyone has to determine what their own morality is and how they're going to respond to it; will they do the right thing regardless of the consequences or will they turn a blind eye and continue to act in a way that benefits them? This message of doing the right thing in a world that encourages self-serving behaviour at the expense of others would seem a little forced if the character was anyone but Marcelo, but because Marcelo is who he is, the message and how it is conveyed is just beautiful, I cannot stress this enough. I actually cried towards the end of this book at a scene where Marcelo is talking to a female rabbi that he frequently meets with; the dialogue and how things are resolved just hit you and disarm the barriers people put up to avoid being affected by all the hurt we witness every day.

Trust me, just read this. It's beautiful and lyrical and genius all wrapped up in a book-like package, you will adore this novel.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The night sky with the tree house and Marcelo walking with Jasmine is a really pretty image.

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