Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Warning: This might turn into one of those Trisha-was-so-blown-away-by-what-she-read-that-she-is-incoherent reviews, because Marcelo in the Real World is just a beautiful, unputdownable, unforgettable, oh my god *so* good book. Believe what you’ve read elsewhere about this book; it really is that good.
Marcelo Sandoval’s father would say Marcelo has a cognitive disorder. Marcelo himself prefers to describe it as “excessive attempt[s] at cognitive order,” because there is nothing wrong with the way he perceives the world. True, Marcelo is easily overwhelmed by auditory and visual stimuli and his need to make sense of it all. He does not relate to most other people, but with practice and clear instructions, and his attendance at Paterson, a private school for students with disabilities, Marcelo is capable of functioning relatively normally. Now that Marcelo is seventeen, his father decides that it is time he learns to function “in the real world.” Therefore, Marcelo is to spend the summer working in the mail room of his father’s law firm.
Over the course of the summer, Marcelo learns about life in the real world, where, among the many things he learns, too many people are willing to take advantage of others. He begins to recognize emotions and feelings he’s never felt before, to live beyond the boundaries he previously restricted himself to. And through it all, Francisco X. Stork masterfully brings Marcelo to life, with intelligence and tenderness and so much heart.
At first, I did have a bit of difficulty falling into the rhythm of the book, so it took a couple of chapters for me to get into the story. Marcelo narrates the book and it reflects the way he views the world. Like Marcelo, the narration is deliberate and careful. Exact. Marcelo is very literal and needs clear explanations to understand words and concepts he hasn’t experienced or is unfamiliar with. Even before Marcelo tells us what his condition is, you can tell from the way he narrates that there is something different about him. When I hit chapter five, suddenly, things just clicked. I was invested in the story, invested in Marcelo. Because, did I mention how good it is? And, more than that, the connection Stork forges between readers and Marcelo, and how much I cared about Marcelo and everything he goes through? I haven’t reacted this way to a book since I read Jellicoe Road, and though I don’t love it as much as Jellicoe, I have to agree with everyone who thinks you’ll see a couple of shiny stickers on the (absolutely perfect) cover of Marcelo in the Real World come award season.
And here are some of the blog reviews I referred to at the start, because 1) I don’t think I could find them all, and 2) the list might end up being longer than what I wrote above: Angieville, Becky’s Book Reviews, Reading Rants, Reviewer X, YPulse. Or you can read the 5 (!) starred reviews its earned on Stork’s website. Also, behind the book with its editor Cheryl Klein and Becky’s interview with the author.