Monday, July 29, 2019

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
Recommended Ages: 13+

Marcelo Sandoval, age 17, has a condition that could be described as similar to a high-functioning form of autism. He wants to spend his senior year at a special school where disabled children feel safe, and where no one will judge him for his special interests – including the study of holy texts, the music that plays in his head and caring for the school's ponies. But Marcelo's father is a high-powered patent attorney who thinks his son is more likely to succeed in life if he spends the next year at a public high school. As a sort of bet between them, Arturo talks Marcelo into spending the summer working at his Boston law firm. If he succeeds in his assignment, he can go back to his beloved Patterson. If he doesn't, it's gen pop for Marcelo.

Ironically, Marcelo kind of proves that his father is right. But he goes about it in a way that could irreversibly change their relationship. Meantime, he explores friendship with a male law clerk who probably isn't worthy of the honor, and romance with an office girl who at first resents having to work with him. He learns a lot about office politics, legal ethics and how to look after himself. He also feels his conscience pierced by a photograph of a girl disfigured by a product made by one of the firm's clients. His journey to figure out what is the right thing to do tests his faith in everything from dear old dad to God himself.

Marcelo is a paradoxically powerful and vulnerable character whose voice elicits affection and protective feelings in the reader's heart. Although his current dilemmas seem to resolve themselves rather quickly – it's not a very long book, at all – the journey he takes is significant, and in a few encounters with each of a handful of important supporting characters, he makes huge strides as an self-contained individual. His unique way of looking at things may also make an all-too-familiar world, indoors and out, really interesting to look at in the mind's eye. Themes of family ties, sexual attraction, love, honor and faith also come into it, but it's the magnetism between the characters – both attracting and repelling – that give this book its unique energy.

This review is based on listening to the audiobook read by Lincoln Hoppe. Mexican-born author Francisco Stork, who apparently based a character in this book on himself (try to guess which), is also the author of Disappeared and its upcoming sequel Illegal, as well as The Way of the Jaguar, Behind the Eyes, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, Irises and The Memory of Light.

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