Monday, December 3, 2012

Book review: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real WorldMarcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where I got the book: my local library.

Marcelo is 17 and has Asperger Syndrome, which means he's on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He's smart, good-looking, and socially inept. His special interest (aspies generally have one) is religion. He hears his own internal music. All Marcelo wants to do is to stay at his private special school, where he's learned to like who he is and has developed an interest in training ponies. But his lawyer father wants Marcelo to go to the local public high school next year. So he cuts Marcelo a deal. Marcelo is to spend the summer working in his father's law firm; if he is a success, he gets to stay at the special school. If he fails, it's public school. Marcelo, who agrees really (I think) because he loves his father and wants to make him proud, gets to take a much closer look at his father's work than his father might like, and develops a kind of relationship with his co-worker Jasmine.

Well, it's inevitable that I started out by comparing this YA novel to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time , which is also about a teenager with autism. But the resemblance really stops there. For one thing, Marcelo is much higher functioning; it should come as no surprise to the enlightened reader that all people with a disability are unique. And Marcelo's real world is cruel in a different, much more insidious, way.

Stork does a really good job of making it clear that Marcelo loves his father while simultaneously making me hate the guy. I mean, come on. Marcelo is perfectly happy in his school (which his father can well afford) and his father wants to chuck him into a public school? Sorry, I could rant about this. My oldest is developmentally disabled and I would love to have been able to afford a school where people wouldn't call her a retard. End of rant and btw she's now in a post-high-school program where she's able to shine.

Marcelo is, in fact, so aware that I had a bit of difficulty accepting him as on the spectrum. Too much of the author's personality intruding into the story. But it's a great story, and very moving. Basically, the real world SUCKS. Jasmine (who is probably one of those people who are borderline Aspergers but never diagnosed and boy, I have known a few of those) is pretty much in withdrawal from it. The trip that she and Marcelo take to Vermont, to be with her senile hillbilly father, makes total sense in that it compares Marcelo's reluctance to connect with the "real world" of competitive employment to Jasmine's father's choice of scraping a living on a Vermont farm. Guess what, the author's (and therefore the reader's) sympathies are definitely not leaning toward the cutthroat business environment.

Nicely written and the hardback book is prettily designed. A superior read, even though I had trouble buying into Marcelo as a personality, hence we lose a star.

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