Marcelo in the Real World

By Francisco X. Stork

From Goodreads: Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear–part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify–and he’s always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm’s mailroom in order to experience “the real world.” There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.

He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file — a picture of a girl with half a face — that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight. . . This extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

Why it’s my type: Pronounced Mar-sell-oh (as I’ve learned since reading), this is the kind of story in which I’m sure, as many times as I return to it in the future, I will never stop recognizing new insights, and connections, that I’d previously missed. Which is ironic, considering the book’s narrator–a person sometimes assumed to be more thoughtless than most. Already I feel frustrated with that knowledge, feeling like I don’t want to return it to its rightful library shelf. I have to go out and get my own copy some day soon.

It is just so thoughtful. And heartfelt. And moving. With a superb sense of voice. A story seemingly, deceivingly simple–about a boy and his summer job–but one that speaks to so many other bigger issues than that.

Standout script: “‘Jasmine is logical in her thinking. One step leading to another. Analyzing probabilities and discarding them.’

‘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.”

“‘I cannot believe that this is the first time I realized this, but it is. We all have ugly parts. I think of the time in the cafetaria when Jasmine asked me what the girl in the picture was asking me. How do we live with all the suffering? We see our ugly parts, and then we are able to forgive, love kindness, walk humbly.'”

“‘Your question reminded me about composing a piece of music. I start off with a feeling and this feeling leads me to find notes and a tempo that match the feeling, and then I expand and respond to the initial notes. After a long, long time and much work I end up with something that I can’t take any further. The thing is, when I reach that point, I feel terribly frustrated because the end product never fully reflects the feeling that I started out with and is for sure never as beautiful as I wanted it to be. And at the end I have to accept that this is all I can do. . . So I let the piece go, hoping that the music will make someone feel what I felt.'”–Jasmine.

Recommendation: I would (and will) recommend it to most any reader in my life, young or old.

Published: 2009 by Arthur A. Levine Books.

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