Book Review: Marcelo in the Real World

marcelo imageMarcelo in the Real World
Written by Francisco X. Stork
Published by Scholastic Books, 2009
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.  Continue reading


Book Review: Gringolandia

"Gringolandia," Gringolandia
Written by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Published by Curbstone Books, 2009
ISBN:   9781931896498
Age Level: Ages 14 and Up

Description (From GoodReads):

Daniel’s papá, Marcelo, used to play soccer, dance the cueca, and drive his kids to school in a beat-up green taxi—all while publishing an underground newspaper that exposed Chile’s military regime. After papá’s arrest in 1980, Daniel’s family fled to the United States. Now Daniel has a new life, playing guitar in a rock band and dating Courtney, a minister’s daughter. He hopes to become a US citizen as soon as he turns eighteen. When Daniel’s father is released and rejoins his family, they see what five years of prison and torture have done to him. Marcelo is partially paralyzed, haunted by nightmares, and bitter about being exiled to “Gringolandia.” Daniel worries that Courtney’s scheme to start a bilingual human rights newspaper will rake up papá’s past and drive him further into alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Daniel dreams of a real father-son relationship, but he may have to give up everything simply to save his papá’s life. This powerful coming-of-age story portrays an immigrant teen’s struggle to reach his tortured father and find his place in the world.

My thoughts:

Gringolandia isn’t a story easily forgotten, and it shouldn’t be.  As an adult with a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies, the practice of torturing and disappearing political dissidents as a means of social control during violent dictatorships wasn’t new to me. Yet I was still gripped by the novel, finding myself thinking about it days after I’d finished it.  For young adult readers I think Gringolandia would be an incredibly powerful and moving book.  Not only does it give voice to a historical period in a country not often taught about in the classroom, but I believe it also asks readers to think quite deeply about how we determine what is right or wrong and how we judge and make sense of the world around us. Continue reading

Book Review: Leaving Glorytown

Leaving Glorytown by Eduardo CalcinesLeaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro
Written by Eduardo F. Calcines
Published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009  
ISBN:   9780374343941
Ages: 12 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Eduardo F. Calcines

Eduardo F. Calcines

Eduardo F. Calcines was a child of Fidel Castro’s Cuba; he was just three years old when Castro came to power in January 1959. After that, everything changed for his family and his country. When he was ten, his family applied for an exit visa to emigrate to America and he was ridiculed by his schoolmates and even his teachers for being a traitor to his country. But even worse, his father was sent to an agricultural reform camp to do hard labor as punishment for daring to want to leave Cuba. Continue reading

Book Review: Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood–Our Mexican Graffiti

"Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood," written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood is the story of one teenage boy’s coming-of-age, but at the same time, it’s so much more than that.  Denise Chávez explains, “Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood is our American Graffiti. No, that’s not right. It’s our Mexican Graffiti.”  It’s a statement about life—life as a Mexican teenager living in a small town in the United States in the late 1960s.  Sammy Santos lives in the Hollywood barrio of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The novel is the story of his senior year of high school—the year he must deal with the violent death of his girlfriend, the reality of the enduring poverty of his family, the racist policies of his high school, and the consequences of the Vietnam War.  While set in the 1960s, it’s a book that I believe will speak strongly to our students today.  In fact, I wish I had read this book sooner, before my years as a middle school teacher.  I saw older versions of my students in its pages. Continue reading