Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Listening Library, 2009 (Also available in print through Scholastic)
Narrator: Lincoln Hoppe
Marcelo has managed to stay out of the "real world" for most of his life. As a teen with a condition somewhere on the Asperger's/autism spectrum, he has been allowed to go to a private school called Patterson, for students with learning or physical disabilities. Yet Marcelo's parents believe he can function in the real world and attend public school instead of avoiding it. And so his father, Arturo, decides it would be useful for Marcelo to work in the mail room of his law firm for the summer to get a taste of what life is like outside of Patterson.
As Marcelo narrates the story of his summer, we see what goes on in his mind. He has a "special interest," as he describes it, in religion—though he is a practicing Catholic, he also has a strong desire to learn as much as he can about the other world religions. He has a knack for taking care of horses. He loves music and owns many CDs, a good portion of them classical. He tends to refer to himself and others he speaks to in the third person, though occasionally he checks himself. And he always wants to do what is right, even if what's right asks him to sacrifice things he wants, or hurts those closest to him.
Though this started off slow for me, I began to love Marcelo. He's such a gentle soul, though unsure of many real-world "rules" and guidelines that weren't an issue at Patterson. All his life people have adapted to him, and now he's facing the challenge of adapting to the world around him.
The discussion of right and wrong is not a clear one, and this makes the story not only realistic, but incredibly valuable. There is no clear-cut "right" course of action. Every decision that's made will affect others—even though Marcelo wants to do what's right, he needs to weigh the consequences of each path he might take.
Marcelo comes into contact with a lot of awful, corrupt people, but he also meets a number of others with good hearts. Wendell is a scumbag, as is his father; Jasmine, on the other hand, tries to get through each day in this ruthless atmosphere doing the best she can, and is essentially a good person. Then there are the people in between, like Marcelo's own father.
Perhaps one of the things I liked best about this novel is the way Marcelo sees and describes his condition. It quickly becomes clear there isn't a whole lot wrong with him, though he does have his quirks. But Stork does not present it as a disease. In fact, by the end, I did not see it as one, which is why I refer to it as a condition. Marcelo is extremely sensitive to others because of it, though he doesn't let this compassion completely rule his life. He keeps on going, knowing that he's doing what he can.
Lincoln Hoppe gives a good performance as narrator of the audio version. His voice is soothing and young-sounding, making Marcelo's voice believable. He gives emphasis in the right places, and each character sounds unique enough to differentiate between them. My biggest problem in listening to this instead of reading it was I couldn't tell in many places whether Marcelo was talking out loud or thinking his narration. Most of the time I eventually figured it out, but sometimes it was frustrating.
A detailed and intimate look at humanity, Marcelo in the Real World brings us the account of a young man discovering the greed and indifference to the wellbeing of others in the world, as well as the love and goodwill we are all capable of, should we so choose.
Disclosure: I checked out this book from the library.