I hadn’t heard of Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork until I read a review of it by Amanda from the Zen Leaf. In the comments, Amanda mentioned that she thought Marcelo would be interesting in audio form, if it was done well. I decided to give it a shot.
About the Book:
Marcelo has just finished his junior year of high school when the novel opens. He has a cognitive condition that’s something like, but not exactly, Asperger’s Syndrome, and he has attended a special school his whole life. The school owns therapeutic horses, and Marcelo’s summer job is to help care for them.
Then Marcelo’s father, a prominent lawyer who thinks Marcelo can do better, proposes an agreement. Marcelo will work in the mail room at his father’s law firm for the summer. If he succeeds in this “real world” environment, Marcelo can spend his senior year at the school he’s always attended. If not, he will be mainstreamed at the local high school. The latter is something Marcelo most definitely does not want.
Marcelo reluctantly settles into life at the law firm. He tackles each assignment with the aim of succeeding so as not to be mainstreamed for his senior year. Marcelo does end up learning a lot; more, in fact, than his father might have anticipated or desired.
Marcelo in the Real World was a very interesting novel. Honestly, I thought it was written for adults. Having never seen the book, I didn’t realize it’s intended to be YA until I saw it listed somewhere as “grade 8 and up.” The book certainly contains plenty to keep an adult engaged.
I either loved or hated every character in this book. I loved Marcelo, his mother, his sister, and Jasmine; I hated Marcelo’s father, Wendell, and most of the rest of the law firm staff. And yet most of them were more rounded than clear-cut good and evil. They all seemed very real, and I could understand their motivations and inclinations, even if I didn’t agree with them. (Except for Wendell, who is a slimy, evil young man, period.) For instance, Marcelo’s father: I wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision forcing his son into the “real world,” but I could see that he really did think it was in Marcelo’s best interest. And vice versa, the “good” characters all had their flaws.
The novel was both tough and rewarding. It was hard to watch Marcelo come up against the “real world,” trying to navigate situations I would’ve hated to be in myself. It was disheartening to witness some of the other characters’ reactions to Marcelo, often treating him like an idiot who could be easily manipulated. But it was also rewarding to see Marcelo work through the things he didn’t understand and, ultimately, do what he needed to do.
Marcelo in the Real World is definitely a book that makes you think. I felt very much in Marcelo’s shoes as he navigated the world of the law firm. It’s taken me a while to write a review because I’ve been pondering what I wanted to say. I don’t find it to be an easy book to write about.
As for the audio, I really liked reader Lincoln Hoppe’s interpretation of Marcelo. My one complaint was that his pace was sluggish, enough so that I listened to the second half of the book double speed and had no problems adjusting. This is one of those books I think I would like better as an audiobook, were I to read the novel and compare. I always like first person narration on audio because it feels like the character is speaking to me. But listening to Marcelo’s narration went a step further, making me feel like I was actually inside his head. He talks through a lot of his thoughts in a very logical way, which makes them easy to follow (not at all like stream of consciousness) while simultaneously giving insight into Marcelo’s unique thought process. You see the world through his eyes while also applying your own “real world” knowledge to situations that are new to Marcelo.
If you like novels with interesting narrators or that give you plenty of food for thought, I think you’d be happy with Marcelo in the Real World. I’m certainly happy I read it and was enthralled by the story as it unfolded, even if my thoughts here come across as only lukewarm!
If you’ve read Marcelo in the Real World, what did you think? Is there another book with a unique narrator that you enjoyed?