Sunday Salon – Happiness is a Really, Really Good Book: Review of “Marcelo in the Real World” by Francisco X. Stork

The Sunday

Before I tell you about this book, I want to insert a quote from the author’s blog on what it means to love a book, because I truly loved this book. And this post not only tells you what that means, but shows you something of the author’s style, and of his heart:

True Love

Authored by Francisco Stork

“I thought I would get philosophical (for a change!) and ask what it means to love a book. I often hear the phrase: “I liked it but I didn’t love it”, applied to a book. It surprises me to hear the word love so selectively applied to a book when it is so easily bandied about otherwise: “I love these potato chips.” It seems that we have more reverence for the word “love” when we refer to a book. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just my own inner desire to save the preciousness of the word by using it only when I believe it to be true love. It seems to me that love for a book entails both the rapture of first love and the commitment of forever love. If that is the case, no wonder I find it hard to love just any book. By “rapture of first love” I mean that recognition of the book’s beauty, its goodness, its literary qualities all of which are experienced in a kind of rapture, a losing of myself in the world of the book. (Sounds very much like falling in love for a person, doesn’t it?). By “Commitment of forever love” I mean that I choose, that I select and prefer this book to the many other books I have read. It means that the book is now a part of me and I a part of it. It means that I don’t want to leave it, that even as I finish reading it, I already want to return it. It means that along with the passion of the initial rapture there is also a peace that is intuitively recognized as lasting. This is true love for me. I only want to add that true love is subjective. There are “classics” that I don’t love and there are what many would consider poorly written books that I love with all my heart. With these last kind there is a recognition of souls that takes places that pierces through the surface. May our hearts be always full of love.”

My Review:

This book won, inter alia, New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2009, 2009 Booklist Editors’ Choice, Horn Book Fanfare Book, Kirkus Best Book of 2009, Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009 and School Library Journal Best Book of 2009.

Much of the marketing for this book labels it as a book about Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-level functioning form of autism. I think that characterization mispresents the nature of this book. Yes, 17-year old Marcelo Sandoval has been diagnosed with AS, but the story is not about his disability, per se, other than perhaps in terms of the reaction of other people to Marcelo. Above all, it is a beautiful coming of age story about what happens when Marcelo leaves the protected environment of a special school and goes to work at his father’s law firm “in the real world.”

Marcelo’s father Arturo, the head of a rapacious corporate law firm, thinks “the real world” will be good for him. But for Marcelo, in an analogy later explored with his spiritual advisor, Rabbi Heschel, the transition is more than just a change of location. By going from the special school to the law firm, basically he has left the innocence and goodness of Eden and now has to learn about the existence of evil. He even begins to question his faith, which previously had been the bedrock of his sheltered existence. The pain he saw at the special school, he discovers, is nothing in comparison to the pain people inflict on one another outside its confines.

At the law firm, his father arranges for him to work in the mailroom under Jasmine, a girl not much older than he is. She is kind and patient with him, unlike others in the firm, who call him “Gump” or “Retard.” Marcelo and Jasmine discover they share a love of music and of the way it both calms and also elates them.

Wendell, the shallow and callow son of Arturo’s partner, gets Marcelo transferred to his office so that Marcelo can do his work while he hits the beach. He also regularly tries to pressure Marcelo into helping him get Jasmine into a compromising sexual situation.

But while doing Wendell’s work, Marcelo discovers something about a big ongoing litigation case that will ultimately change his life. First though, he must decide how to resolve the moral dilemma he has encountered. He asks Jasmine for her opinion:

“Jasmine: I’m not the one playing the piano here. You’re the one that needs to decide what the next note will be.

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

Jasmine: The right note sounds right and the wrong note sounds wrong.”

Rabbi Heschel uses her own analogy: When the sap comes up from the ground and travels through the branches of a tree, it can go up one branch and it is good and bears fruit. Or it can go up another but it is evil and there is no fruit. She says: “You have to make sure it goes up the right branch. It’s up to you.”

Beyond the micro sense of the wrongdoing he has uncovered, Marcelo wonders generally, “How do we go about living when there is so much suffering?“ The process by which Marcelo arrives at a satisfactory answer to both of these questions is one that is so well thought out and riveting that the reader is carried along by his logic and good-heartedness to perform a similar self-analysis.

And the beginnings of young love, so new to someone like Marcelo, are a joy to witness. He wonders why he feels like there are “a thousand butterflies fluttering inside of him” when he is near Jasmine. He also tries to work out what this means, and how it fits in with his other discoveries about the real world.

Evaluation: Did I say enough times how fabulous this book is? It’s not another wonderful book about a disabled person. It’s a wonderful book in which the protagonist (and narrator) happens to be disabled. And yet, by the end of the book, you wonder, along with some of the characters, who the “disabled” people in this story really are. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009

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26 Responses to Sunday Salon – Happiness is a Really, Really Good Book: Review of “Marcelo in the Real World” by Francisco X. Stork

  1. Sandy says:

    Wow, girl, that was one amazing review, truly. I love the exerpt about loving a book. The word cannot be used lightly when it comes to our books, not like a favorite TV show or food. I don’t know how I can resist this recommendation. I’m writing it down into the ever-growing list!

  2. Amanda says:

    I saw this in a library catalog last June and immediately knew I wanted it, but it wasn’t until Christmas that I was able to get my hands on it. Still need to get around to reading it…

  3. Julie P. says:

    Ok. I must read this book! Sounds amazing. I love it when I read a book this good!

  4. JoAnn says:

    Just started this book yesterday, so skimmed your post. I love it already!!

  5. Jenny says:

    This really does sound wonderful – I’m adding it to my list! There really are not enough books that deal honestly and respectfully with disabled characters, and it’s something that’s important to me.

  6. kiss a cloud says:

    5 stars from you means wishlist addition for me.

  7. Janel says:

    Sounds like a book that will make you think about it and the way you look at your life long after you are done reading it. Just like the loved book in the excerpt.

  8. I should note that one thing that tickled me about this book was the depiction of the law firm, where Marcelo discovers some unpleasant aspects of “the real world.” There is a “good” lawyer in the book, and the author is a lawyer, and even my husband is a lawyer (however, I have always regarded him more as a labrador in human form rather than a lawyer in human form). But I spent many years in law firms, and the description of the one in this book sounded very familiar to me!

  9. Aarti says:

    I love the idea of and the cover of and the title of Marcelo in the Real World. It sounds lovely and meaningful.

  10. BooksPlease says:

    This is a really really good review. I’ll have to get hold of such a really really good book! Many thanks.

  11. bermudaonion says:

    I’ve had this on my wish list for a while now. You’ve made me want to go out and buy it today!

  12. Najela says:

    That sounds wonderful. There aren’t enough books about kids that have ASD and AS. I can’t wait to read it.

  13. Alyce says:

    I know when you give a book such a resounding recommendation it’s got to be a good one. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.

  14. Belle says:

    This sounds like an amazing book. My library has it, so I just put in a request for it. And the excerpt from the author’s blog is just wonderful!

  15. Ari says:

    When I visited the author’s website, that quote on true love and books really stuck with me as well. It is so true. I loved this book and I’m sooooooooooooo glad you loved it to!

    Wonderful review. And I agree, Marcelo was not the one with a ‘disability.’ Humph, Wendell was such a jerk! i loved the discussions between Marcelo and Rabbi Heschel (I didn’t know women could be rabbis and I thought that was really cool), the discussions provided some great food for thought. And i wasn’t expecting the book to become a mystery of sorts but I loved that twist =)

    I feel like when I review Francisco Stork’s books, all I can do is rave. I’m reviwing Last Summer of the Death Warriors tomorrow and I don’t know what I’m going to say except LOVE.

  16. Staci says:

    Excellent post Jill!!!!!! I checked this book out for some of my students last year and they truly enjoyed it. I’m ashamed to say that I returned it without reading it, but I will soon remedy that error of my ways!

  17. Jenners says:

    I trust you implicitly so I’m putting it on my wish list.

  18. Margot says:

    Even without the 5/5 I could tell this was an excellent book. The clip from the author made me really stop and think about my use of the word love. So, I’m trying real hard not to say: I loved your post and I would love to read this book and I love that the setting evaluates all people with other forms of disability. I have to find this one.

  19. Bookjourney says:

    This sounds good. I recently read a little about Asperger’s Syndrome in the book Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. I hadnt really known about it until then.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    This is the second outstanding review for this book that I’ve read today. It must be good 🙂

  21. Rita K says:

    I guess I need to read this if you loved it this much! You don’t give out very many 5s!

  22. Valerie says:

    We have a few family members with Asperger’s/ PDD, so I know I would be looking to see whether it was accurately portrayed here or not. I have heard good things about this book, and I really want to read it!

  23. Must. Read. This. Book. (#BLOBfail)

    That bit you quoted from the author about loving a book? Made me teary. I am a ridiculous book loving sap.

  24. I haven’t heard of this book before, but it sounds wonderful and I love that cover…yes, I sometimes judge by a book’s cover. Thanks for the great review.

  25. Adding this immediately to my wish list and passing on the suggestion to others at Facebook and Goodreads….

  26. Pingback: Review: Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork « Jenny's Books

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