Saturday, August 18, 2012

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

Wow--two five-star books in a row. It's been awhile since I've been able to say that! On the heels of the wonderful 600+-page The Invisible Bridge, I jumped into Marcelo in the Real World, a young adult novel about a young man named Marcelo who has high-functioning Autism (akin to Asperger's).

After attending a nurturing, private school for kids with special needs through his junior year, his father (Arturo) springs two surprises on him. He wants Marcelo to attend the public high school for his senior year. When Marcelo balks at this suggestion, he offers a deal: he can work at his law firm for the summer ("in the real world") and if he "succeeds" (under Arturo's terms), he can continue at his private school.

Marcelo is not happy about this, but he agrees. He begins helping Jasmine in the mailroom. Jasmine is initially grumpy about Marcelo's presence but eventually the two form a wonderful bond. Things seem to be proceeding well until Marcelo is recruited to work with Wendell, another intern who works for his father (the other partner in the law firm). Wendell is a bad egg and tries to manipulate Marcelo into arranging a private meeting with Jasmine where he can pursue her in close quarters.

While working for Wendell (unwillingly), he discovers a photo of a girl who was disfigured by a windshield breakage--the windshield is manufactured by the law firm's largest client. Deeply touched by this photo, Marcelo searches for more information with the help of Jasmine. He is faced with a major ethical decision that can have major repercussions throughout his family, Jasmine's situation, and the future of the law firm.

Stork, inspired to write this book after working with non-neurotypical young people at the Larche Center 30+ years ago, sensitively portrays this young man who hears music in his head. Marcelo is obsessed with religion, and although he is Catholic he has a particularly close relationship with a female rabbi who serves as a sort of spiritual director/counselor. Marcelo has close relationships with his mom and sister, as well. Stork illustrates the difficulties that people on the Autism spectrum can have with disrupted routine, a lack of choices, and the lonely feeling that people do not understand him.

I highly recommend this book. It's wonderful.

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