Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork was recommended to me by indiefan20 following a conversation about books with autistic characters.
Marcelo in the Real World is Young Adult fiction, which I don’t read a great deal of, but I did enjoy this book. The main character is Marcelo, a seventeen-year old boy whose life is about to change over the course of a summer. Marcello hears and experiences music internally, not exactly by hearing the music, but by experiencing the emotions caused by his internal music as a result of having autism or Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar, no one, including Marcelo’s doctors, are able to agree on exactly what causes Marcelo’s brain to act this way).
Marcelo attends Paterson, a school which attends to his and other children with specific needs. Marcelo is happy at Paterson and is looking forward to working with the school’s ponies over the summer holiday, then to his final year at Paterson when his father, a lawyer, asks (tells!) Marcelo to expand his world by working in the mailroom at his law firm over the summer, to gain experience in what Marcelo’s father calls the ‘real world.’
I resented Marcelo’s father’s implication that Marcelo’s world was not real. He seemed to me to be too hard on Marcelo, although Marcelo’s mother seemed to me to be too accepting and giving. Perhaps this is often the case with parents in general and that somewhere in the middle there is balance, however because of this, both Marcelo’s parents seemed to me to be flat as characters.
Marcelo worked in the mailroom beside Jasmine, the novel’s other main character. Jasmine was at first angry to have been saddled with Marcelo, but she quickly showed herself to be kind and intuitive, and she and Marcelo became surprisingly good friends.
The bully in this story is Wendell, Marcelo’s father’s partner’s son. Wendell is also working at the law firm for the summer and tries to coerce Marcelo so he can get to Jasmine, who is smart enough to not want to have anything to do with him.
The other villain is Marcelo’s father’s law firm itself, who are acting on behalf of their largest client to shut down multiple claims that the client knowingly sold a faulty product which seriously injured their customers. When Marcelo sees a photo of a young woman who was injured by this product, he acts according to his morals on her behalf, risking his relationship with his father, the law firm and the client’s business in the process.
If I heard internal music and experienced the emotions accordingly as did Marcelo, I don’t know that I would want to live in Marcelo’s father’s ‘real’ world either. However, Marcelo experienced the growth (for want of a better word) that his father wanted for him because of his job. Speaking and working with people was challenging for Marcelo, and he coped surprisingly well with many unexpected situations.
Some of the plot points were over-complicated and felt like padding (Marcelo’s fascination with religion, or his weekend away with Jasmine to see her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, for example), but on the whole I liked Marcelo’s principled character and I enjoyed this book.