Marce­lo in the Real World

Fran­cis­co X. Stork
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012

It is the sum­mer before senior year, and 17-year-old Marce­lo San­doval, the pro­tag­o­nist of this well-craft­ed nov­el, is excit­ed about his sum­mer job, tak­ing care of the ponies at his school’s ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing sta­bles. His father, a part­ner in a pow­er­ful law firm, how­ev­er, thinks that Marce­lo is too cod­dled — and wants him to enter the real world ASAP. So they make a deal. If Marce­lo suc­cess­ful­ly works in the law firm’s mail room for the sum­mer, he can choose to return to his school. If he does not, he will be main­streamed into the large pub­lic high school in the fall. 

This is a book that refus­es to be for­got­ten. It is a sto­ry that dares the read­er to be a bet­ter per­son. Marce­lo is not your typ­i­cal pro­tag­o­nist. He has an Asperger’s‑like dis­or­der. His affect is flat and he under­stands that he can­not read facial expres­sions or inter­nal­ize some com­plex emo­tions. Stork inte­grates what is dif­fer­ent about him — he lis­tens to inter­nal music, lives in a tree house, and prefers to dis­cuss his spe­cial inter­est, reli­gion — with what makes him like us. Marce­lo longs to feel safe. He wants to be liked. He wants to be help­ful and successful. 

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to Jew­ish read­ers are the tough eth­i­cal issues cen­tral to this novel’s sur­pris­ing plot. Although he is not Jew­ish, Marce­lo meets week­ly with a local female rab­bi to study Torah and oth­er Jew­ish texts. His under­stand­ing of Judaism and morals is lit­er­al­ly put to the test when he dis­cov­ers a pho­to of a young woman injured by the neg­li­gence of his father’s law firm’s most pow­er­ful clients. Unrav­el­ing the mys­tery sur­round­ing this girl is excit­ing, and Marcelo’s keen under­stand­ing of man’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to those who are suf­fer­ing will stay with the read­er. When he final­ly decides what to do, his own com­ing-of-age jour­ney toward self dis­cov­ery tru­ly begins. Fran­cis­co Stork takes us into the thoughts of this trans­form­ing char­ac­ter, sur­pris­ing the read­er many times over. Noth­ing — even the pos­si­bil­i­ty of love — is overwritten. 

This book is a ful­fill­ing expe­ri­ence. It offers read­ers an excel­lent dis­cus­sion about morals as well as expec­ta­tions, fam­i­ly, faith and the def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess. Ages 12 and up. 

Addi­tion­al Review

Editor’s Note: This young adult book has two reviews due to the nature of the sub­ject and the per­son­al expe­ri­ences of Nathan Weissler, our sec­ond reviewer.

Marce­lo in the Real World fea­tures sev­en­teen-year-old Marce­lo San­doval who has traits strong­ly resem­bling Asperg­er Syn­drome (AS), an autism spec­trum dis­or­der. Marce­lo is deeply upset when his father, Arturo, pres­sures him to attend pub­lic school in order to learn about the real world.” Marce­lo reluc­tant­ly agrees to work for his father in the law firm’s mail room over the sum­mer. This book shows us that those with dis­abil­i­ties des­per­ate­ly want to be part of soci­ety but real­ly need our sup­port. In the absence of such sup­port, peo­ple like Marce­lo will suf­fer seri­ous bul­ly­ing. Marce­lo suf­fered seri­ous harass­ment at the hands of Wen­dell, anoth­er young man whose father works in the law firm. Thus, teach­ers using this book in the class­room can use it as an anti-bul­ly­ing tool. Marce­lo is Catholic, but he has a gen­er­al­ized spe­cial inter­est in reli­gion — par­tic­u­lar­ly Judaism. He knows a rab­bi who is an impor­tant men­tor to him. They dis­cuss top­ics togeth­er such as the exis­tence of G‑d. 

I would rec­om­mend this book for 13 – 17 year-olds. There is dan­ger in younger chil­dren find­ing amuse­ment in Marcelo’s dis­com­fort and Wendell’s behav­ior and repli­cat­ing the bul­ly­ing behav­ior. How­ev­er, if read at the right age, this book will help non-spe­cial Needs peo­ple of all ages to be more empha­thet­ic. It will also help those with dis­abil­i­ties real­ize that they are not alone.

Sarah Aron­son holds an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ver­mont Col­lege. She is a full time writer and has recent­ly pub­lished her first nov­el, Head Case (Roar­ing Brook) for young adults. Sara blogs every Thurs­day for the Lilith blog.

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