Marcelo in the Real World. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books.
30-Second Summary: 17-year-old Marcelo (pronounced Marselo) is autistic. He hears internal music that he cannot explain to anyone else and he looks forward to working as a stable man for the horses at the school he has attended since he was six. His father, however, wants Marcelo to spend his senior year at a public school. So, his father makes a deal with Marcelo: If Marcelo works in the mailroom of his father's law firm for the summer, then Marcelo can choose for himself where to spend his senior year. Marcelo is far from excited by the prospect of spending three months in the "real world." But he agrees to the deal.
At the law firm, Marcelo faces discrimination and insults from the majority of his father's employees. The main exception is Marcelo's boss in the mailroom, Jasmine. The two slowly adjust to working with one another. But, when Marcelo finds the picture of an injured girl that his father had protected his largest company from having to pay, he begins to question who his father is and what Marcelo's role will be in the real world.
More and more books that share the perspective of children and teens with autism are popping up in bookstores. I have to admit The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime still holds the place as being the most engrossing for me.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Marcelo in the Real World. It reminded me strongly of Erin Brockovich, in that one-person-seeking-social-justice-and-taking-on-some-super-soulless-lawyers kinda way.
I think my main issues with Marcelo in the Real World is the fact that it didn't feel like it was a young adult novel. I can't really say what it is about it that made it feel more like an adult novel. It could be a fact that it revolved so much around working a 9-5 job in a law firm or the fact that toward the end of the book a character who is introduced spends way to much time discussing enjoying prostitution and the mating process of his cow with a bull. Yeah, I really just typed that.
I mean, Marcelo was still dealing with issues associated with young adulthood--sexual awakening, seeing a parent as a real person who makes mistakes, etc. It's just something about the writing still made the text feel...adult-ish.
Marcelo in the Real World could be used to show the experiences and perspective of a young adult with autism. A teacher could focus discussion on the judgements and discriminations Marcelo faced. The frustration I felt for his character was one of the most engaging aspects of the text.
The book could also be used to explore the many dilemmas Marcelo faces, including issues of class, race, protecting individuals against monetarily minded corporations, standing opposed to loved ones, facing two-faced friends, questions of faith and religion, etc. This book includes a lot of excellent topics for discussion of the more difficult experiences we all face in the real world.
Quotes of Note:
"Marcelo, are you ready?" (p. 1).
"I remember Aurora telling Dr. Malone that Arturo wants me to attend Oak Ridge High for my senior year. I remember her pause in the middle of a sentence when we were talking about working at the stables. I remember Aurora asking Harry if she could talk to him for a few minutes. I notice so many details of what is happening and remember just about all that I notice, even though sometimes it seems as if I am not paying attention. What is hard is interpreting all the details that hit my brain at once. But sometimes I can do that. Like right now. What I gather from all that I have noticed is that my plans for next year are about to change" (p. 15).
"I want you to work at the law firm this summer."
This is a total surprise. It takes me a while to find words, any words. When I do, I say: "I have a summer job at Paterson."
"You'll help in the mailroom." He doesn't hear or chooses not to hear what I say.
"I have a job already," I repeat" (p. 19).
"Son, I want you to have a job where you interact with people, where you have to figure out new things by yourself. What do you do at Person that teaches you what you don't already know?" (p. 19).
"You can do what you want in the fall..." He waits for my eyes to meet his eyes and then he continues. "But this summer you must follow all the rules of the...real world."
"The real world," I say out loud. It is one of Arturo's favorite phrases" (p. 20).
"Arturo is basically asking me to pretend that I am normal, according to his definition, for three months. This is an impossible task, as far as I can tell, especially since it is very difficult for me to feel that I am not normal. Why can't others think and see the world the way I see it? But after three months, it will be over, and I can be who I am" (p. 23).
Tasty Rating: !!!