By Francisco X. Stork
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Five Things I Liked About Marcelo in the Real World:
1. Lovely, poetic and profound yet realistic dialogue
2. Finely tuned and unique narrative voice
3. Thoughtful characters (as in both caring and full of thoughts)
4. Non-black and white relationships
How lovely is this cover?? How pathetic is this intro?? Cut me some slack; this is my fifth review in 24 hours. Okay, jumping right in.
Falling toward the more high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, 17-year-old Marcelo has lived his life in the protective environment created by his family and Patterson, the special school he’s attended since kindergarten. He’s looking forward to spending his summer working at Patterson tending the therapeutic ponies before beginning his senior year at Patterson in the fall. But Marcelo’s protected world is turned upside-down by a last minute change of plans when his father tells him he will be instead working in the mailroom of his father’s legal firm. It is high time, his father believes, that Marcelo assimilates into the “real world.” Navigating the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of the often tense social and business nuances of the office proves to be the most overwhelming and challenging experience Marcelo has ever faced, but with thoughtfulness, courage, and simple wisdom, it may also prove to be the most rewarding.
It’s hard to read Marcelo in the Real World without thinking of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The stripped-down, keen observations and narration of the autistic protagonists are refreshing and eye-opening. Marcelo may not be encountering anything we haven’t seen before in our own lives, in some capacity, but seeing the “real world” through his un-jaded eyes is a novel experience. The confusion he experiences when he tries to apply his previously uncomplicated logic to the blurry issues of injustice and suffering, selfishness and manipulation, love and desire will strike a chord with all readers, sorry to see his innocence stripped away and sorry for ourselves for having to work out these same issues in our own lives. Marcelo in the Real World inspires empathy as much as sympathy, evoking the bittersweet taste adulthood with all its freedoms, sorrows, challenges, and beauty leaves on the tongue.
Marcelo in the Real World came highly critically acclaimed to my attention, and in my opinion more than lived up to its reputation.
Books Read This Year: 51
Top 100 Progress: 48/100