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Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

November 10, 2010

From the inside flap:
Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear – part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo’s differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer…to join “the real world.”

I feel so conflicted about Marcelo in the Real World, typing my thoughts out in a cohesive manner has proven to be difficult. But I’m going to give this my best shot.

Let’s start with the positives. I really liked Marcelo and his take on the world, especially during the first half of the book. He is very perceptive and describes the world in a unique way. Like how the word ‘routine’ makes him think of small, incomplete routes and how he takes figures of speech literally

I also enjoyed the plot and Marcelo’s struggle with doing the right thing. Neither of his choices would have been particularly easy to make and it was great to watch him fit all the different parts of the puzzle together. And, for the most part, I also liked Jasmine and Marcelo’s interactions with her.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was it’s view of people with cognitive disorders:

This is a topic of conversation that I am knowledgeable about but not particularly fond of. Explanations about my condition are based on the assumption that there is something wrong with the way I am, and at Paterson I have learned through the years that it is not helpful to view myself or the other kids there that way. I view myself as different in the way I think, talk, and act, but not as someone who is abnormal or ill. (p. 55)

Over all, I really enjoyed Marcello in the Real World while I was reading it. But then there’s the part that made me feel all uneasy.

Right at the beginning when Arturo, Marcelo’s father, brought up the job at the law firm and suggested that Marcelo might change his mind about which school he wants to go to by the end of the summer, I had a niggling feeling I knew where the book was heading. However I was willing to keep reading and see the story through to the end.

Marcelo starts off socially inept, unable to process more than a few bits of information at a time, and fully absorbed in his special interests – religion and IM (inner music). But after 3 months at the law firm, he knows how society works, has all these plans for the future, while his former special interests, which were an integral part of his diagnosis, lay at the wayside.

All that seemed to be missing was the big “Congrats! 3 months in the real world and you are CURED!” announcement. Or was it that Marcelo never really had any big limitations or difference to begin with and 3 months in the real world just taught him how to fit in there. Had Marcelo, his mother, doctors, and school been misguided all those years, but only his father knew what was right? But even he didn’t seem to believe that Marcelo was quite as smart as he turned out to be.

It also seemed that to fit into the real world of hurt and deceit meant that Marcelo had to lose part of what made him special. Or did he simply outgrow the inner music and interest in religion?

I’m definitely not for holding people back because of what society deems limitations, but something about Marcelo’s miracle cure seemed a bit fanciful to me. The book started at Marcelo’s doctors office, where they were testing his brain and seeing how it worked. I would have liked to have seen a return visit at the end of the book. Maybe 3 months at the law firm made his brain work differently.

My rating: 6/10

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2010 3:09 pm

    I can see how you might have felt conflicted on this — it does seem a bit like to push back the real part of the person is the only way to “get along,” and we all know that sometimes that just isn’t the right message. Bummer this didn’t work out for you, but I can totally see why, and I’ve got that little old feeling of hesitation biting at me, too!

    • November 10, 2010 3:21 pm

      The thing is, while I was reading it I was all “I’m loving this!” And for the most part it really was a wonderful book. But the end rubbed me the wrong way and a week later it’s still bugging me.

  2. November 10, 2010 4:17 pm

    I haven’t read this one yet, but my 15 year-old son is currently reading it. I liked reading your thoughts on this one and wonder what my son will think of this one.

  3. November 11, 2010 1:18 pm

    I can see how that would ruin an otherwise good book. I think that probably would have bugged me too.

  4. November 12, 2010 4:32 pm

    I loved this book, and am trying hard to remember the exact end. From what I remember though is that Marcelo seemed to luck out in friending Jasmine. It also seemed that he had some good skills already set in place in how to deal with the world which I think helped him to acclimate to the work, and because of the skills, I don’t think work changed him, but rather gave him a boost in confidence that he can do something. I do believe, that Marcelo’s father had a talk with Jasmine; having her look after Marcelo but maybe that is my real faulty memory. From memory, I found the ending to be hopeful. By the end, he developed some plans, and is surrounded by some great support people in his life that help him along the way…hopeful, and that is what I really took away from this read…hope.

    Ultimately, I am glad that you liked the read, but wish you liked it more. :)

  5. November 13, 2010 8:10 am

    It does sound a bit like a miracle cure. The part you loved about the book made me curious, but now I’m not so sure anymore..

  6. November 13, 2010 7:38 pm

    I felt the same way. The more I thought about it, the more it bugged me, which is why – although I really enjoyed most of the book – I haven’t read anything else by the author. Which is sort of silly – the things that I loved (the relationships and the characters) were really the things that would be likely to be repeated in other books by the author.

  7. November 14, 2010 7:10 pm

    hmm this has been on my wishlist for a little while, now I’m really keen to read it, just to see if I perceive it the same as you. Great review

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