Book Review: Marcelo in the Real World

marcelo imageMarcelo in the Real World
Written by Francisco X. Stork
Published by Scholastic Books, 2009
ISBN: 
9780545056908
Age Level: Ages 14 and up

Description (From GoodReads):

Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear–part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify–and he’s always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm’s mailroom in order to experience “the real world.” There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.

He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file — a picture of a girl with half a face — that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

 Reminiscent of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

My thoughts:

Marcelo has become one of my favorite protagonists.  He is very different from many of the main characters in other books we’ve read here at Vamos a Leer.  Marcelo is a seventeen year old on the autism spectrum.  He says of himself, “. . .the closest description of my condition is Asperger’s syndrome. . .” (p. 55).  How often are we given a book that provides our students any insight into what it might be like to experience the world with autism or Asperger’s syndrome?  This alone makes it a significant book.  Marcelo is also an introvert.  He lives in a tree house behind his family’s home. He has an incredibly rich inner life filled with the “internal music” he hears, and he thinks deeply about all things religious as religion is his special interest.  He also develops very close relationships with animals. At school he helps to train the therapy ponies, and at home he is always accompanied by his dog Namu.  As an introverted, animal lover who studied religion for my B.A., it’s not difficult to see why Marcelo would appeal to me.  But, I find Marcelo captivating for much more than just the ways I can personally identify with him.  Marcelo represents so many of our students who are ‘different,’ who don’t quite fit into what we have come to expect of a ‘typical teenager.’  School can be quite brutal for these students.  Marcelo provides a window into what it’s like to be that ‘atypical’ teenager—and challenges many of the preconceived misconceptions we have about these students.

Educators conduct research projects on how we can encourage understanding, empathy or compassion in our students.  For me, great literature is always a way to do that.  A well-written character allows us to see, maybe even experience, life through someone else’s eyes.  Readers get to do that with Marcelo, and I believe that many of our students will be surprised by what they learn from him.  Marcelo struggles with so many of the same things that the students in our schools must deal with on a daily basis.  He’s asking the same questions that they ask themselves: Who am I? How much am I willing to change to fit in? What does it mean to succeed? How do I determine what is right or wrong?  How do I make sense of the world around me? Despite the fact that so many of us know teenagers are struggling to answer questions like these, we rarely find time to make these discussions relevant and real parts of our curriculum.  A novel like this provides one way to do that.

In asking questions like those above, Marcelo challenges much of what we consider ‘the real world.’  Marcelo is clearly grappling with the significance of his own morality, particularly in light of his religion or spirituality, but the religious aspects of the book are never over-bearing or preachy.  In fact, his conversations with Rabbi Herschel are some of my favorite parts of the book.  While Marcelo is Catholic, he often meets with Rabbi Herschel to discuss the various religious texts he’s reading and get her thoughts or interpretations.  These conversations are in turn both comic relief and heart-breaking.

The summer at the law firm is a life-changing experience for Marcelo.  He finds himself giving up a great deal of what he thought he wanted and needed.  It’s certainly a powerful coming of age story.  One that I hope we will find in many classrooms and school libraries.

Marcelo in the Real World has received a number of awards and recognitions as a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2009, a Washington Post Best Kids’ Books of the Year, a Smithsonian Notable Book of 2009, A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010,a Kirkus Best Book of 2009, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2009.  I hope you’ll consider adding it to your classroom library.  Click here to be taken to our Educator’s Guide for the book.

If you’d like to read what others have thought about the book, check out the links to other reviews below:

If you’re interested in hearing what the author himself has to say about the book, check out the following online interview:

Lastly, there’s a video to accompany the novel:

If you’re an Albuquerque local I hope you’ll join us Monday, November 4, at Bookworks from 5-7 for some coffee and conversation about Marcelo in the Real World!

–Katrina

Good for: Gathering Books AWB Challenge (a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2009, a Washington Post Best Kids’ Books of the Year, a Smithsonian Notable Book of 2009, A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010,a Kirkus Best Book of 2009, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2009) and My Overstuffed Bookshelf YA Reading Challenge

readingchallengepic3 copy

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Marcelo in the Real World

  1. Katrina,

    Great book review! I really liked this book for the same reasons but specially because Marcelo is atypical in his behavior. Being a teenager is hard enough, being an atypical teenager augments the degree of hardship these students have in high school. I loved the ending!

    • Blanca, I’m so glad to hear that you liked the book too! I can’t wait to talk about it on Monday. I loved the ending too, it was such a nice way to finish the story. We’ve got you entered in our drawing for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. We’ll also raffle a copy off at book group on Monday, so you’ve got plenty of chances to win that one! It’s magical realism so I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. Marcelo y el Mundo Real. I purchased a copy of this book in Spanish, and it took me on a journey. The book also taught me incredible lessons on perspective through the eyes of a teenage boy, Marcelo, who has “high functioning” autism, which I admittedly don’t often “see” or consider. His “inner music” is fascinating to explore and reminded me of the privileges I have in the “real world” that are often unacknowledged. These alone are great topics to cover in class: privileges and disadvantages in society; perspective; individual uniqueness.
    Not only is the book rich in a creative, “unsung” narrative voice, but it is also deeply rooted in themes of justice and injustice. Is it just that Marcelo’s father pushes him, unwillingly, to leave behind his comfort zone of tree houses, horses, and like-minded, understanding peers and teachers to work in his law firm for a summer? Is it unjust that Marcelo’s father’s law firm defends large corporations? Posing these questions to young readers and encouraging conversations around these central themes opens many avenues for complex text analysis but also connections to the “real worlds” of our students.
    Ultimately, this book engenders empathy and hopefully–via an ability to identify humanely with an atypical central character–enables a more holistic identification with oneself.
    This book moved me emotionally. Recommended 100%.

    • Great thoughts Allison! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book as well. It seems like everyone has really liked this book. I’m looking forward to discussing it at book group tonight.

  3. I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on “Marcelo in the Real World”! It’s a great book, even if I thought Stork was a little sloppy with some of the legal details. Thanks for the link to my review. 🙂

  4. Pingback: En la Clase: UPDATED My 2013 To Be Read List | Vamos a Leer

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