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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco Stork

This was a fabulous book that I listened to on my iPod. It was listed by Booklist as one of the best audiobooks for young adults of the year, and it was fantastic. I listened to nearly all of it in one go while I was baking Christmas cookies, and that's about as good as it gets, listening to a great book and cooking!

This is the story of a young man named Marcelo who has a communication disorder similar to Asperger's Syndrome. Marcelo is very high functioning, but he doesn't have all the same social skills most kids do. Marcelo goes to a private high school and he loves it there. It's very "safe", and geared very much towards children with all kinds of learning disabilities. Marcelo even has a summer job waiting for him there, taking care of the ponies. He's really looking forward to it.

Marcelo's father, however, has different ideas about how Marcelo should spend his summer. Marcelo's father thinks Marcelo should work at his law firm over the summer, learning skills he'll need to better function in "the real world." He makes Marcelo a deal he can't really reuse. Either Marcelo works at the law firm all summer and is successful, OR Marcelo goes to public high school the next year. Neither of these is an option Marcelo would choose, but in the end he decides a full year at Patterson is better than a summer working there.

While at the law firm, Marcelo discovers an injustice he feels strongly that he must repair, even though it may hurt his father. This scenario is very difficult for Marcelo, though, because he's someone who really functions best in an ordered and logical way, and this is neither. It's real life, just like his father promised him, and real life can be messy. Marcelo goes to uncommon lengths to get to the bottom of the situation because he's a little bulldoggish in his personality ,and he can't let go of the problem like many people might be able to.

Aside from Marcelo, there are two other strong characters in this novel. One is Jasmine, Marcelo's supervisor in the mailroom who is not happy about him being there, but who is amazingly patient and kind to him. Their friendship begins to deepen into something more over the course of the story, and it's the only part of the storyline that troubles me. I'm not sure I can buy it. I want to believe, because I'm a romantic, but I'm not sure I do. Jasmine seems a bit too wise beyond her years. But there are some reasons for that. It's not a dealbreaker, it just niggles a little.

Creepy, slimy Wendell, law-school son of one of the other attorneys in the firm is the other strong character. Wendell is pretty much all about Wendell, and he uses Marcelo to try and get what he wants. All the time. Mostly what he wants is Jasmine, strictly for nefarious purposes, of course, but also he wants someone else to do his work for him. enter Marcelo. Marcelo's father doesn't (want to?) recognize Wendell's shortcomings, so he continues to try and foster their friendship. Wendell's a jerk, however, and Marcelo, in the end, recognizes this. Whether he will act on that recognition, however, due to the serious consequences it will bring, is what brings the events to a head. Can he give up Paterson, which he so dearly loves, can he jeopardize his father's position and, in fact, his whole firm? And will it be worth it?

The best thing about this novel, I think, is the authenticity of the voice of Marcelo. He almost always talks about himself in third person, and although it's a bit jarring to the reader, it works. It gives him just the right quirkiness, just the right tone. I wonder, not having read it, if that tone would be as evident as it was with the audio version. I hope it is at least similar for readers because that's what made this book for me - I'd like to know what you thought if you read it as opposed to listened to it.

I predict this will win a Schneider Family award. We'll see if I'm right in a few weeks here.

This book will be available in the WOMS library soon. The audio version is available at Multnomah County Library.

1 comment:

LaurieA-B said...

One thing that really impressed me about this book is that all the characters, even those who appear only briefly (like other people in the law office) were so realistic, they walked right off the page. Each seemed like a real person with his/her own life. I was really impressed by Stork's writing. After reading Marcelo I picked up Stork's Behind the Eyes, which doesn't reach the level of Marcelo but is a good book about a Latino teenager that students will enjoy.