Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mock Printz 2010: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
ISBN: 9780545054744
Starred review in: Kirkus, School Library Journal, PW

Summary: Marcelo Sandoval, 17, has plans to spend his summer working with the ponies at Paterson, the private school he’s attended since grammar school. He wants to return in the fall for his senior year. Marcelo’s father, Arturo, a successful corporate lawyer in Boston, has other plans for Marcelo, who has an autism spectrum disorder (the closest diagnosis, Asperger’s). Marcelo listens to his own internal music, sometimes slips into third person, his ‘special interest’ is religion in all forms and he likes to know what to expect and what is expected of him. Arturo wants Marcelo to attend a mainstream high school, Oak Ridge, instead of Paterson’s specialized environment. But Marcelo is comfortable at Paterson. Arturo offers a deal. If Marcelo can successfully navigate the “real world” by his father’s standards and work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer instead of with the ponies, Marcelo will be allowed to return to Paterson and follow his own plans. Apprehensive but determined NOT to attend Oak Ridge, Marcelo reluctantly agrees. The summer internship exceeds expectations (both Marcelo’s and other's) offering new possibilities, plans and relationships. Marcelo, self-aware, highly-intelligent and kind hearted- experiences both the ugly and the beautiful sides of life in the “real world”. He gets caught up in nasty office politics, suffers the attentions of closed-minded, cruel and manipulative individuals and gets an accidental lesson in the shadier areas of litigation. But Marcelo makes a strong connection with co-worker Jasmine and helps another young woman when his father initially refused to. Loyalties, morals and ethics are tested but Marcelo manages to simultaneously stay true to himself and grow. While he adapts to the world around him, Marcelo also affects positive changes.

This is a great character driven novel where the protagonist’s journey isn’t limited to minor character development. It doesn’t suffer from the “complete 180” you sometimes come across. Marcelo’s experience in his father’s much touted “real world” is believable but more than anything, it’s how the “real world” and Marcelo influence one another. This comes across as real…and balanced. (And gratifyingly defies Arturo’s expectations.) Marcelo is more honest and self-aware than most. Despite other people’s preconceived notions of him, Marcelo is also extremely perceptive; whether he reads faces, tones or sees past people’s words and right to their intentions. Stork maintains a dynamic core in Marcelo but gives him the freedom to grow and expand outside his comfort zone and the box other’s put him in. Secondary characters are also susceptible to realistic change and usually surpass stock restrictions (the deplorable Holmes men and their icy assistant are believably slimey and arrogant, Marcelo’s understanding mother Aurora is wonderfully sympathetic and also encouraging). This is especially true of Jasmine, Marcelo’s musically inclined and equally perceptive colleague in the mailroom. She starts off with more professional, private boundaries but opens up to Marcelo and is a true friend. It took one or two chapters for me to become involved in the story, but once Marcelo was ‘parentally bargained’ into the law firm mailroom, I went from interested to invested and other readers will too.

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