Thursday, March 05, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World

Stork, Francisco X. 2009. Marcelo in the Real World. Scholastic. 312 pages.

"Marcelo, are you ready?"
I lift up my thumb. It means I'm ready.
"Okay, I'm going to wheel you in."
Then he slides me inside the tunnel of the machine. I like the feeling of being closed in. The lights are not bright enough to hurt my eyes but I close them anyway.

Meet Marcelo Sandoval. Read his story. Witness first-hand the transition from dream world to real world.

Marcelo has always been different. (He lives in a tree house, for example.) Lived in his own little world--not cut off from the world, by any means, but taking it in at his own pace, staying in his comfort zone, doing this much and no more. Marcelo has autism--Asberger's Syndrome to be exact. He's always chosen to attend a special school--Paterson--to be with children and teens who are different--just different in varying ways. But his father, Arturo, wants him to go to a regular high school his senior year--Oak Ridge High. His father wants him to work at his law firm this summer. (Marcelo wanted to work at the pony stables of Paterson). A deal is reached: if Marcelo works for his father this summer--in the mail room of the law firm--and succeeds at it--follows the rules of the business world, of the so-called real world, then Marcelo can choose for himself where to complete his schooling.

So it begins. Marcelo works in the mail room under the direction of a young woman, Jasmine. She's no more pleased to see him there, to have him there than he is to be there. But their honesty is the first of many steps that lead them down the path towards being not just coworkers but friends. But this friendship isn't quick to develop. One step at a time. One day at a time. Marcelo isn't the greatest conversationalist--if and only if you're judging by the world's standards. (Personally, I could talk to him all day!) But his father and mother think it important for him to learn how to interact in the real world, make small talk, make eye contact, learn to shake hands, etc. Marcelo keeps a notebook with him in which he writes down things he needs to know or wants to remember.

Here is a scene with his father on their first day going into work together:

"I want you to participate in the day-to-day workaday world, my world, and your world too now. And to do so, you have to abide by some established customs. People in the workaday world are discreet about their religion. They pray in private. They don't quote Scripture unless it's a figure of speech like, I don't know, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' or 'the blind leading the blind.' Things like that. Phrases that have common usage."
"Can a blind man lead a blind man?" I say.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Jesus's exact words were, 'Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?' Luke, chapter six, verse thirty-nine."
"That's exactly what I mean. It's not customary to quote Scripture to someone, much less quote him chapter and verse. I think that if you're going to benefit from this experience, it's important that you try to act as is customary."
I take out the yellow notebook that I always keep in my shirt pocket. I write: Do not pray so that others see M. pray. Do not quote Scripture. Note: Listen for religious phrases that have become figures of speech. Those are allowed even if not accurate. Do not provide correct version or cite where it appears in the Bible. (42)

Here is a snippet from his first day in the office making the rounds with Jasmine with the mail cart:
Jasmine says, "I'd stay away from the secretaries if I were you."
"How can I deliver the mail to them if I stay away from them?"
"I mean, I wouldn't let them get too friendly with you, especially the ones that are single and desperate, like Martha back there."
"Martha for one would not hesitate to jump your bones."
I think of the passage in the Bible where the prophet Ezekiel jumps up and down on a pile of skulls and bones. The rapidity with which I am encountering new concepts is making me dizzy.
"What's wrong with you anyway?"
"You need to speak clearly. I don't know what the phrase 'jump your bones' means. It would be very helpful if you were more literal."
"If you used words in accordance with their primary literal meaning, not their metaphorical meaning."
"I was being literal. Martha would literally bounce on your bones if she could."
"Oh." (page 54)
Marcelo isn't the only son working there over the summer. Arturo's partner, Mr. Holmes, has his son, Wendell, there as well--though not in the mail room. His son is helping out with actual cases. Marcelo doesn't like Wendell--far from it--but his father insists that he should be friends with Wendell. Be friendly. Be nice. But what his father doesn't particularly seem to care about is that Wendell is well...a put it nicely. Wendell's interest in Jasmine is infuriating. Marcelo may not know much in the ways of attraction, love, and lust...but he knows the way Wendell talks about Jasmine is just plain wrong.

Can Marcelo survive the summer? Can he succeed according to his father's standards? Can he ever be "accepted" by his coworkers--taken seriously? What will he learn about the 'real world'? Will he decide to become a part of it even if it means sacrificing elements of his dream world?

I just loved this book. Loved it. I loved Marcelo's voice. I loved his observations. I loved his interactions, his conversations. I loved that his special interest was God, religion. I loved his intelligence; his way of digesting the world and discerning for himself right from wrong. I loved his strength, his character. Here is a man with heart and soul, with substance. I loved that this is a complex novel and a beautiful one.

Other reviews: Sarah Miller, Menasha Kids, Kidliterate, Y.A. New York, Teen, Read, Write, Believe,

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Ana S. said...

Like I told you last week, the cover alone got me curious about this one. And well, I very much want to read it now!

Jill said...

Wow, that sounds great. And I love that cover!

Doret said...

I loved Marcelo in the Real World I have my fingers crossed it will receive great reviews so non YA readers will discover a wonderful YA book. And the cover is beautiful.

chrisa511 said...

So I think I'm in love with this book and I don't even have it :p Great great great review Becky and I can't wait to read it now! It has like everything I love in one book!

soleil said...

have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon? if you haven't, i think you would really enjoy it based on your love for this book.

Becky said...

Nymeth and Chris, I think you'd both enjoy this one!!! I thought of you both actually while I was reading it ;)

Darla, it really is a great cover!

Doret, I hope so too! I love it when adults discover great YA books. And I think this one is just a gem of a book. I'd love to see it make the rounds on the blogs I read. :)

Jehara, I haven't read it yet. Though *hangs head in shame* I've had it borrowed from my very best friend for almost four years. She hasn't asked for it back, though. I wonder if she knows I still have it...Anyway, to redeem my honor, I should get that read in the next month or so just so I can return it :)