Marcelo is looking forward to his coming summer job as caretaker of the therapy ponies at Paterson, a special school for children with disabilities which he himself has attended for years. He is an intelligent but sheltered teenager with a condition that places him on the Autism spectrum. However, Marcelo’s father, wanting him to gain experience in the “real world,” pushes him into a job in the mail room of his Boston corporate law firm. If he isn’t successful at the mailroom job and at following what his father terms “the rules of the real world,” he will be required to go to a regular high school for his senior year rather than his beloved Paterson. And so the reader is thrust with Marcelo into the competitive, confusing and relativistic world of the law firm, viewing it all through his fresh eyes.
It is absolutely riveting to follow Marcelo’s thoughts as he confronts the politics, deceptions, and evils that surround him in the law firm and begins to wrestle with what is right and wrong and how he should conduct his life. His observations and occasional misapprehensions of the words and actions of those who surround him are by turns humorous and startlingly insightful. At times the reader is almost embarrassed at Marcelo’s naivety, only to be dumbfounded seconds later by his deft and logical breakdown of a common perplexity of human behavior. The reader should not have any problem identifying with this character; his autistic-based obsessions and limitations come to seem not so different from those of anyone else in the story or in real life. His social shortcomings are countered by great perception and moral aptitude. A lot of credit should be given to the author for creating such a breathing character.
In a day when many young adult books deal with sex in an extremely casual manner, this book is refreshing and courageous for intelligently suggesting that such casual sex may actually be emotionally and spiritually destructive, and making cogent arguments for sexual morality and high ethics in general. The book is also courageous for bringing religion to bear in these moral arguments in a sophisticated and respectful way; Marcelo is extremely interested in religion and God, and both leans upon and questions his religious knowledge as he is confronted with moral quandaries at the law firm.
Filled with believable characters, realistic situations, beautiful metaphors and stunning ideas, this is a brave, masterful, coming-of-age novel that is a likely contender for the major young adult awards of the coming year.
Review by Josh Whiting, Granite School District Library Media Department
Rating: Five Stars
Interest Level: High School / Adult
Marcelo in the Real World
Written by Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic
Release Date: Mar 2009