I have had Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork on my TBR list since I first read Sherry’s review of it back at the beginning of 2010. I finally ran across a copy at a library I visit only occasionally, and the fact that it was in large print didn’t stop me, so determined was I to read this book. (I used to think reading a book in large typeface would distract me, but I have now learned that it isn’t distracting at all. Or maybe it’s my 35+ years, 25 or so of them spent as an avid reader, catching up with me and now I actually need the large print. 😉 ) This book lives up to Sherry’s review, so I want to add my voice to the chorus proclaiming this book to be worth the few hours and effort it takes to read it.
Marcelo Sandoval is a young man of seventeen who is different from most other seventeen year olds: he has a passion for studying religion; he loves ponies; he lives in a treehouse; and he hears music in his head that he can’t even describe and that no one else can hear. Marcelo attends a special school for children with all sorts of disabilities; the clinical diagnosis that best describes his condition is Asperger’s. His life is going along in a way that suits him until his father, a high powered attorney with his own successful practice, decides that it is time for Marcelo to enter the “real world.” Instead of spending a summer caring for the therapeutic ponies at his school, Marcelo is to work in the mail room at his father’s law practice. If Marcelo’s time in the mail room is successful, he will be allowed to finish out his high school career at his beloved school; if not, he will finish his schooling in public school, where he will encounter more of the “real world.” No one bargains on Marcelo actually making a stir, though. Marcelo becomes the assistant of his dad’s law partner’s vulgar, lecherous, snake-in-the-grass son more or less out of his dad’s insistence, and through this relationship Marcelo discovers a cover-up that the law practice is involved in. Also because of this relationship, Marcelo must choose between what he really, really wants–returning to Paterson at the end of the summer–and protecting the only person he can really call his friend, a young lady named Jasmine who runs the mail room. Ironically, Marcelo finds out that there is perhaps even more pain and heartache in the “real world” than there is at his school, but he finds the strength to meet it head on.
This book caused me to think a lot–especially about homeschooling and the whole notion that by homeschooling, we could be sheltering our children too much. Like Marcelo, homeschooled children are often accused of being unable to survive the “real world.” Marcelo’s penchant for studying religion (for the record, it’s all religions that he’s interested in, not just Christianity) gives him the means by which he ultimately copes with the evil he sees. You know, the evil that’s pervasive in society is really just a manifestation of what’s in men’s hearts. We all have this problem–a sin problem–whether we live in the “real world” or not. I like that Marcelo grows to a place of acceptance with what he sees, but this acceptance isn’t the kind that makes him collapse in the face of evil, but rather, he does what he can to combat it. I hope I’m raising my children to do the same thing. Oddly enough, Marcelo in the Real World reminds me a little bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s The Love Letters (linked to my review). I think it’s the whole notion set forth in L’Engle’s book that “[m]any things hurt. . . [y]ou must stop paying so much attention to the pain.” This same idea resonates throughout Marcelo, too.
I feel compelled to mention that this book contains a fair amount of bad language and references to sex. Marcelo is very matter-of-fact and innocent about his understanding of sex, but there are a couple of characters who are rather vulgar. While I do find reading such materials jarring to my sensibilities, I felt like this story was worth persevering through the yucky stuff. However, I know that a few of my readers use my reviews to help them find books for their children, so I wanted to mention this.
I am fascinated by stories of children and adults who are differently-abled than the average person. For the younger set, the book Rules (linked to my review) is a realistic and moving story about a girl whose brother is autistic and how his autism affects her life. This particular post of mine was the most viewed post on my old blog, so this book is obviously popular. Sherry’s review of Marcelo in the Real World contains a rather lengthy bibliography of books with similar themes.
(Linked up at I Read It! at 5 Minutes for Books)