TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
I know! I am so late to the party in reading and recommending "Marcelo in the Real World," which has been on "Best of 2009" lists produced by everyone from The New York Times to Amazon.com. But, in the spirit of that old better late than never motto, herewith I give you my two cents. 🙂
For those who don't know, our title character here functions at the high end of the autism spectrum. If you're familiar with Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time," Marcelo reminded me a bit of Christopher Boone, in that he can function capably in the world despite being separated from it. While Marcelo is a smart, thoughtful, meticulous teenage boy, he clearly relates differently to other people and the larger society around him. Marcelo sometimes does not understand what emotion he and others are expected to experience in a given situation or why a person would react with laughter, anger, or lust when faced with a specific set of actions.
The remarkable thing about this book is that Marcelo is so brilliantly portrayed that we understand perfectly why he perceives the world the way he does. More incredibly, we realize that Marcelo's interpretations are not just acceptable adaptive techniques, but, at times, purer or more honest responses than those of the "normal" characters. Francisco Stork expertly maintains Marcelo's voice throughout the novel, never once wavering or offering us false moments, in what I can only describe as an incredible triumph of writing.
I won't reveal too much of the story, other than to say that the novel revolves around the pivotal summer before Marcelo's senior year of high school during which he works at his father's Boston law firm. Over the course of a few months, Marcelo befriends hard-edged mail room clerk Jasmin, who opens his eyes to a world filled with the beauty of music and the pain of compromise and failure. Marcelo also confronts an entitled bully and seeks out rogue justice for an injured plaintiff, along the way challenging his father's livelihood and his own long-held beliefs about family, religion, ethics, and fairness.
I hesitated in reading this book for far too long. I only wish I had believed the hype and read it sooner! "Marcelo in the Real World" is a poignant and meaningful novel that gives us one of the richest characters to emerge from a teen novel in years. It is, without a doubt, the finest piece of teen literature I have read in 2009, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to teens and adults. There is a minor bit of language and some thematic elements, but nothing an older middle school student couldn't handle. Look for "Marcelo in the Real World" to win the ALA's Printz Award in a few weeks; if it doesn't, there are going to be an awful lot of angry readers around!
UPDATE 1/26/2010: As you may have heard, Libba Bray's trippy "Going Bovine" won the Printz Award. Fair enough. Although it absolutely wasn't for me — I gave up around page 100 — Libba rocks. With no disrespect to the other honorees, I simply cannot believe my precious "Marcelo" was overlooked as a finalist for the same award. Bah! Please don't let that oversight sway you from giving this wonderful book a try.