Book Review | Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork

Score: 4

© 2009, Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Marcelo Sandoval is 18-years-old and making plans for the summer between his junior and senior year at Paterson High School, a special preparatory school for children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Looking forward to working as the stable man at Paterson, in charge of caring for the special herd of horses that work with the students there, Marcello is devastated to learn his father has other summer plans for him.

Arturo Sandoval, Marcelo’s father, is a high-powered lawyer running his own firm. He is convinced that all Marcelo needs, in spite of his very clear Asperger’s symptoms, is some time in the “real world” interacting with “real people” and everything will be fine. Arturo challenges Marcelo to join him at his law office for the summer, working in the mailroom. Arturo proposes: “If you [Marcelo] work at the law firm this summer, then at the end of the summer, you decide whether you want to spend your senior year at Paterson or at Oak Ridge High [the local public school].  You can do what you want in the fall…But this summer you must follow all the rules of the…real world.” (p.20)

As Marcello, who desperately wants to return to Patterson, takes his father’s offer, the reader gets an insider’s view of what it is like to have high-functioning AS. The writing is exceptional, so outstanding that it is difficult to put the book down.  This is a true coming-of-age story as Marcelo tries not to make a misstep while he determines exactly what is going on in the dog-eat-dog world of the lawyers’ office. Fortunately, he is naïve, innocent or literal enough to know right from wrong, good from evil and that “no” is the correct answer, even when he may not understand why.

The supporting cast of characters is of particular interest in this extraordinary novel. Of course, Marcelo’s father, Arturo, and his mother, Aurora, who play “bad-cop/good-cop” in helping Marcelo manage his life. Jasmine, the Mailroom Supervisor, whom Marcelo must work for over the summer, enters as an unhappy participant, but serves as a wonderful gardener nurturing Marcelo in his growth in “the real world.”

A special note has to be shared about Rabbi Heschel (no relation to Abraham Joshua Heschel), who serves as Marcelo’s chaplain/counselor. Marcelo’s “particular pervasive interest” is God. While he and his family are Catholic, and he attends church, prays the Rosary in Spanish and is memorizing the Psalms, when he has specific questions, he sees Rabbi Heschel who discusses them with him. Of course, his time in “the real world” generates some interesting queries. The presence of Rabbi Heschel, a female Reform rabbi, provides a wonderful moral grounding for some of the difficult issues dealt with in this novel.

Along with this group, there are the villainous, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” trying to prey on Marcelo’s innocence and test his loyalty and moral acumen. Wendell Holmes, Arturo’s partner’s son, will rank high on my list of detestable characters for a very long time.

Unfortunately, Marcelo in the Real World was not a title reviewed by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. I assume the publisher did not see it as “a Jewish Book.” In my mind, however, it is an excellent example of the role our clergy can play in “the real world” supporting teens, serving as counselors during difficult life situations, interpreting scripture in the light of modern times.

Grade Level: 9th – 12th

©2010 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and forwordsbooks.com all rights reserved.
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One Response to “Marcelo in the Real World”

  1. [...] this remarkable book, we are once again (see Marcelo in the Real World) taken into the mind of an individual with AS to view how the world is seen through their eyes. [...]

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