Francisco X. Stork’s book Marcelo in the Real World begins just before main character Marcelo enters a summer internship for his father’s law firm. Sounds simple enough, right?
Marcelo has an autism-like condition that isolates him just enough to make him noticeable, yet he hesitates to call himself autistic. He doesn’t want to cheapen the term (or “Asperger’s Syndrome“) for those who suffer more extreme cases. This is just one example of Marcelo’s consideration and grace.
Marcelo’s father sets the plot (and tension) rolling by offering him a deal: he must experience one summer in the “real world” of his law firm before deciding which high school he’ll attend for senior year. And because the story comes from Marcelo’s POV, we’re in on every blood-boiling, stomach-fluttering moment.
He knows he’s different because he hears an internal sort of music – or rather, he feels the sensation of listening to music even when he’s not. His reactions are also unusually unemotional. He’s seventeen years old, but as he goes about the world, unsure of nearly every subtle social convention, he sometimes seems more akin to a seven-year-old. At other times, Marcelo’s struggle with black and white vs. gray leads him to make decisions that would send grown adults running for the hills.
As a reader, I sympathized with Marcelo on a questioning level – why does the world work the way it does? What makes people operate the way they do? The story even encourages this sort of thinking, and that’s a wonderful thing. Because Marcelo ponders just about everything in his real world, this book covers a lot of ground: beauty, desire, justice, envy, entitlement, love, loyalty. And in the best way, Marcelo’s story asks the reader to reconsider every one of these concepts.
For the first time in years, I found myself dog-earing pages while reading this book. I knew I’d want to share a few lines.
On pg. 146, I laughed because I know the feeling:
“My mental wiring simply cannot handle the voltage required to play the piano.”
On pg. 182, while talking with coworker Jasmine, Marcelo realizes what faith in people feels like:
“You look surprised. Didn’t you know I was smart?” She pretends to be angry.
Even though I know she is teasing me, I feel my face get red-hot. How can I tell her that I knew but I didn’t know – like seeing the sunset every evening but not seeing it.
On pg. 201, he perfectly describes a bad day:
“The world will always poke you in the chest with its index finger.”
On pg. 271, Marcelo’s trusted friend seems to read my mind on religion:
“‘Do you think that God cares one whit whether Aurora believes in Him? She doesn’t need to believe in God or even remember Him to do His work. Her belief is in her deeds, which is okay.'”
And on pg. 279, the same friend adds:
“‘That’s what faith is, isn’t it? Following the music when we don’t hear it.'”
For Marcelo, music, justice, and a desire to learn fuel his life. What keeps you connected to your real world?