Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork (2009)
Opening Line: “‘Marcelo, are you ready?’ I lift up my thumb. It means that I am ready.”
Marcelo loves classical music. Marcelo is fascinated by religious studies. Marcelo is really good at working with the ponies and the children at Patterson, the special school he has attended since he was a child. Marcelo has attended Patterson because he has a condition that is most closely related to Asperger’s syndrome, and Patterson is where he feels safe interacting with others.
But this summer, Marcelo’s dad, Arturo, decides it’s time for him to enter the REAL world. It’s not an unusual push for parents, but for Marcelo, the real world will be much different than anything he is used to. Entering the real world means learning the T schedule and how to navigate the city streets of Boston. It means learning the rules of common human interaction, such as using pronouns in conversation and not quoting bible passages to people at the office. It means learning new routines and even how to operate without routines.
Marcelo enters the real world as a temp in the mail room of his father’s law firm, where he meets Jasmine. Jasmine is in charge of the mail room and is not happy that Marcelo will be her charge for the summer, as she had other plans for an assistant. Despite this, Jasmine takes Marcelo under her wing, and with her encouragement, Marcelo learns he can function in mainstream society. And as he follows the buried clues of a case at the law firm, he also learns that the image he held of his father in his home life may be quite different from the “real world” Arturo.
Marcelo joins the list of novels written from the point of view of young people with a disability, a current trend in YA lit (at least on the IL state award lists … Out of My Mind, Anything but Typical, Mockingbird, to name a few). Frankly, I think the trend is wonderful. The more we can get “mainstream” kids (and adults) to see the point of views of those with disabilities — and those with disabilities seeing themselves represented in literature — the better. I’ve always thought that fiction has a spectacular way of teaching us things that are impossible for non-fiction, and Marcelo is just another instance. On top of that, this story has a fantastic mystery and gentle romance plot to boot, not to mention that it made me laugh out loud as I listened to it on my afternoon walks with the pup. All in all, A plus, Mr. Stork.