Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
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