Stork, Francisco X. (2009). Marcelo in the Real World. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine. ISBN 9780545054744.
Marcelo is a teenage boy who just finished his junior year of high school. Only one more summer and one more school year stand between him and the real world, but Marcelo isn’t your average teenage boy. He has what his father described as a “cognitive disorder”, but truthfully he has something on the Autism spectrum, like Asperger’s Syndrome. Arturo, Marcelo’s father, refuses to accept his son’s differences and does not really acknowledge they even exist. Determined that Marcelo can make it in the real world he strikes a deal with him that could change everything for his son’s final year of high school. If Marcelo can rise to the challenge, he’ll get what he wants, but what if he can’t? After accepting his father’s deal, Marcelo gets a crash course in the real world and dealing with people’s intentions, motives, and true colors.
Marcelo in the Real World is a contemporary, realistic fiction novel written as a first person narrative through the eyes of the protagonist, Marcelo Sandoval. It seems Stork, the author did a considerable amount of research before constructing Marcelo’s character. The amount of detail put into acquainting the reader with his mental faculties is incredible. Stork is truly a master of characterization. As a person who was already somewhat familiar with both Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, the writing and character development was spot on. For those readers who may know little to nothing about these disorders, he or she will leave this text with knowledge of it and empathy for those diagnosed. You will leave Marcelo in the Real World changed in the best way possible.
While many young adult books have one or two main characters to stay short and fast-paced, this book does not follow suit. In this novel you will meet and get to know many characters as the story builds up around them. The other main characters include Arturo, Aurora, Jasmine, and Wendell. However, Marcelo is really the star. He is the one that the reader identifies most with, feels for, and learns with as the story progresses. I would consider the antagonists in this novel to be Arturo and Wendell. Wendell is a very stereotypical character, what one might expect of a “trust fund baby”, someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has had everything handed to him and people don’t say no to him often, if ever. He is a relatively static character; he stays the same throughout the book. Sometimes Marcelo surprises him but overall his thoughts, beliefs, actions and demeanor are unchanged as the story evolves. Arturo, however, you get the sense is trying at times to evolve as a person and relate to his son. He is not going to win father of the year by any means, but he isn’t someone you consistently love or hate. He just is who he is and sometimes you wish that he wasn’t. Jasmine, on the other hand, is very much a dynamic character. She helps Marcelo adapt to the “real world” and both of them are better for having met each other.
In addition to the exceptional characterization, one of the best things about this book is that it wasn’t cookie cutter at all. It isn’t a standard formulaic novel where everything is so predictable that you don’t need to read the book to know where goes. I expected Marcelo to succeed to some degree, I mean, where would the story be if he didn’t? I expected him to change in some way but I didn’t expect him to evolve so much as a person. He is truly a character you love and you root for from start to finish.
If you like stories that are short and sweet and to the point, this one isn’t for you. But if you want to learn something, to feel something, and to be pleasantly surprised, read this book. In all honesty, the only down side is how wordy this book is, but it HAS to be or you wouldn’t know Marcelo and you wouldn’t love him.