Monday, September 21, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

"Shot with spiritualism, laced with love, and fraught with conundrums, this book, like Marcelo himself, surprises."


What a brilliant past few years it's been for teen fiction. It feels like the quality of writing for teens is absolutely exploding right now, accelerating at a pace that seems as heightened as technology. Marcelo in the Real World definitely fits right into this upward trend. It's a work of real literature, thematically complex, emotionally nuanced, and highly engrossing. What really sets Marcelo and the Real World apart for me is the narrative voice. Marcelo is such an unusual and pleasing narrator; thoughtful, observant, highly idiosyncratic . His rich inner life includes a deep interest in religion, "internal music" which only he can experience, and a love of working with horses. Marcelo is on the autism spectrum, which gives his thoughts a slight formal quality that I liked.

In a way, this is a loss of innocence story. Marcelo has a happy and successful life, going to a special school where his specific needs are accomodated and he can work with the horses he loves. His mother is an understanding and nurturing presence in his life. His father, however, wants him to move outside his comfort zone and begin to function in "the real world", and he arranges for Marcelo to have a summer job in his law firm's mail room. The summer does indeed challenge Marcelo in ways that he (or his father) had not foreseen. He experiences great moral confusion, and also experiences envy, longing, and compassion for the first time. He makes strong connections with some people, while others try to manipulate him. And he is given the gift of "the truth"--an understanding of the ethical ambiguity of his father's world that he did not have before.

This would make a great discussion book for a teen book club, since so many good questions could be drawn out of it. Marcelo's a pleasure to get to know, and I think he makes the "real world" of fiction a more interesting place.

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