Thursday, November 3, 2011

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

If you are reading this through your RSS feed, make sure and click on the post so you can play the music. The "Gymnopedies" by Erik Satie feature in the book and you must hear them!

Marcelo places on the autism spectrum.  He loves his school, Paterson, where he works with the Haflinger ponies providing hippotherapy to autistic and disabled children.  When he's not at Paterson, he's pondering the great holy books, reciting the rosary or talking with his friend, Rabbi Heschel (a woman!)--he's a bit obsessed with religion.  Life is good.  Marcelo is content.

Haflinger Horses
Photo Credit
Then his Dad decides he needs to experience the "real world" and must work in the mail room at his law firm for the summer.  If he does well he will have the option of returning to Paterson for his senior year of high school, if he does not he must go to public high school (where his father really wants him to go).

All of sudden, Marcelo in inundated with new stimuli:  Learning a new job and a new routine. The rumor mill.  Interoffice relationships.  His mail room supervisor, Jasmine, who is only two years older than he is.  Sleazy Wendell, who is trying to use Marcelo (or "Gump" as he calls him) to get Jasmine aboard his private yacht (disgusting leers and gestures apply). The discovery of a girl who was disfigured by a faulty windshield put out by a company the firm is defending.

All of these circumstances force Marcelo to consider things outside of the abstract and in some cases take a stand against unethical behavior.  It is confusing for him. Terrifying at times.  But Marcelo rises to meet these challenges.

This book tackles so many big ideas and isn't an "autism" or "issues" book at all.  Rather it's about the common human experience and questions that arise as we try to live an honorable life. Here are two of my favorite passages:

Jasmine to Marcelo:

"Every time you decide, there is loss, no matter how you decide. It's always a question of what you cannot afford to lose. I'm not the one playing the piano here. You're the one that needs to decide what the next note will be."

"But how do I know the next note is the right one?"

"The right note sounds right and the wrong note sounds wrong."

Rabbi Heschel to Marcelo:

"Our effort is but a counterpoint in the music of His will."

"What if we don't hear the music?" I say.

"That's what faith is, isn't it? Following the music when we don't hear it."

I love the idea of living my life in an attempt to sync with God's music.

Good job, Francisco X. Stork.  And best non-pseudonym ever. Congrats on all of the awards, too!
  • 2010 Once Upon a World Children's Book Award for Young Adults (Awarded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance Library and Archives)

  • Schneider Family Book Award (January 2010) (Awarded by the American Library Association for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences).

  • New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2009

  • Washington Post Best Kids' Books of the Year

  • Smithsonian Notable Book of 2009

  • A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010

  • YALSA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults, 2010

  • Best Young Adult Fiction for 2009

  • 2009 Booklist Editors' Choice

  • Horn Book Fanfare Book

  • Kirkus Best Book of 2009

  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009

  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2009

  • CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2010

  • 2010 IRA Notable Books for a Global Society

    <I checked this book out of my library and am considering buying it.>


  1. What a lovely sounding book. I am going to check right now to see if my library has a copy!

  2. It was unexpectedly good. I liked it even better than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to which its been compared.

  3. I read Marcelo in the Real World years ago and enjoyed it so much. Marcel's conversations with Rabbi Herschel were some of my favorite parts.

  4. Those parts resonated with me, too. It's so rare, especially in YA novels, to see a portrayal of a religious mentor.