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Marcelo in the real world
2009
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New York Times Review
AN endearingly different creature struggles to survive in a world that confounds him. He has trouble navigating city streets, reading facial expressions and understanding love and human suffering. He sleeps in a tree. He is terrified of being sent to high school, where he will be bullied as yet another cliché protagonist of too many young adult novels, the fish out of water. But in the skillful hands of Francisco X. Stork, 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval is the bravest, most original hero I've met in years. As Marcelo describes himself in his precise, stilted way, "I view myself as different in the way I think, talk and act, but not as someone who is abnormal or ill." Marcelo has been raised in a protected environment in suburban Boston. His parents allow him to live in an electrified tree house and attend a private school for disabled kids where he takes courses in "social interaction" and works with therapy ponies. "The closest description of my condition is Asperger's syndrome," Marcelo says. He doesn't really have A.S., he says, but he understands that other people are more comfortable with medical labels. His father, Arturo, a hard-driving Mexican-American who was at the top of his Harvard Law class, thinks Marcelo is unnecessarily stuck in a comfort zone that is not preparing him for "normal" life. He strikes the deal that propels the story: If Marcelo lasts the summer in the competitive hurly-burly of his law firm's mailroom and follows "the rules of the real world," he will allow Marcelo to return to his safe-harbor school for his senior year. Otherwise, it's the big public high school. The reader's conflict - rooting for Marcelo to succeed yet unsure what success actually means for him - energizes "Marcelo in the Real World," a brisk, brilliant, unsentimental novel (the author's second for young adults) by a lawyer who obviously has a grip on the real world. Marcelo is smart, thoughtful, decent, good-looking without knowing it. A great kid, just a little different. Must he be challenged to be fulfilled, emotionally endangered to match someone's idea of fitting in? The psychological and moral concerns of the novel are so marbled into the story that they never overwhelm it, making "Marcelo in the Real World" not only an important new young adult novel but a pleasure to read. While Marcelo may be a somewhat unreliable narrator, he has a voice of heartbreaking honesty. There is just so much he doesn't understand, and he knows it Why doesn't he feel sexually attracted to Jasmine, the quirky beauty who bosses him in the mailroom? Other men clearly do. Why can't he see through the manipulations of the son of his father's partner, a deftly caricatured squash-playing, undergraduate Harvard snot? And what about God, Marcelo's "special interest"? Both seem to have their problems with good and evil. THE novel takes off as morality tale and legal thriller when Marcelo discovers that the firm's main client is continuing to produce a windshield that has already seriously injured dozens of people, one of them a girl Marcelo's age. In organizing the law firm's files, Marcelo finds a photo of her ruined face. He feels the stirrings of empathy, his emotional coming-of-age. The client refuses to pay for the girl's surgery. Somewhere in the files is a clue proving that the client knew the windshield was defective. Marcelo, with the help of Jasmine, can find that clue. He knows it's the right thing to do. But he will be betraying his Dad and casting himself irrevocably into the real world where real dangers - and real joys - await him. Robert Lipsyte is the author of 12 young adult novels including "The Contender," "Raiders Night" and the forthcoming "Center Field."
Library Journal Review
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time meets John Grisham-on page and screen. Seventeen-year-old Marcelo experiences the world differently from most people. His father, a high-powered lawyer, makes a deal with him. Marcelo can finish his senior year in a school for children with cognitive disorders if he will work a summer in the "real world" of his legal firm. There, Marcelo finds a picture of a girl with half a face that compels him to look more closely at a liability litigation involving the firm's biggest client. Why It Is for Us: Marcelo's first-person narrative affords unique insight into the fascinating thought patterns of a likable character who's not quite like us. For Marcelo, crossing the street takes concentrated effort, but religious philosophy and music interpretation come as natural as breathing. The legal drama is a vehicle for larger questions of friendship, loyalty, and trust. As most readers know, navigating the complexities of the real world is not for the weak of heart.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Artfully crafted characters form the heart of Stork's (The Way of the Jaguar) judicious novel. Marcelo Sandoval, a 17-year-old with an Asperger's-like condition, has arranged a job caring for ponies at his special school's therapeutic-riding stables. But he is forced to exit his comfort zone when his high-powered father steers Marcelo to work in his law firm's mailroom (in return, Marcelo can decide whether to stay in special ed, as he prefers, or be mainstreamed for his senior year). Narrating with characteristically flat inflections and frequently forgetting to use the first person, Marcelo manifests his anomalies: he harbors an obsession with religion (he regularly meets with a plainspoken female rabbi, though he's not Jewish); hears "internal" music; and sleeps in a tree house. Readers enter his private world as he navigates the unfamiliar realm of menial tasks and office politics with the ingenuity of a child, his voice never straying from authenticity even as the summer strips away some of his differences. Stork introduces ethical dilemmas, the possibility of love, and other "real world" conflicts, all the while preserving the integrity of his characterizations and intensifying the novel's psychological and emotional stakes. Not to be missed. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 8 Up-Like Christopher Boone, the protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Doubleday, 2003), Marcelo Sandoval is a high-functioning, extremely self-aware teenager with Asperger's syndrome. He has an empathetic mother and a father, Arturo, who appears to be less empathetic as he pushes Marcelo to live in the "real world." The form the real world takes is a summer job in the mailroom at Arturo's law office. The teen is forced to think on his feet, multitask, and deal with duplicitous people who try to take advantage of him. Over the course of a summer, Marcelo learns that he can function in society; he is especially surprised to find that he can learn to read people's expressions, even to the point of knowing whom he can and cannot trust. Writing in a first-person narrative, Stork does an amazing job of entering Marcelo's consciousness and presenting him as a dynamic, sympathetic, and wholly believable character. At a little over 300 pages, the story drags at some points, bogging down in the middle. However, the dilemmas that Marcelo faces are told in a compelling fashion, which helps to keep readers engaged.-Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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