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Marcelo in the Real World

By Francisco X. Stork

The term "cognitive disorder" implies there is something wrong with the way I think or the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others. Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear - part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer... to join "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.

Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

Reviews and Awards

2009 Amazon Top Ten Books for Teens
School Library Journal Best Books for the Year for 2009
New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2009, Best Young Adult Fiction for 2009
Washington Post Best Kids' Books of the Year
Smithsonian Notable Book of 2009
Booklist Editors’ Choices for 2009
Horn Book Fanfare Book
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010
YALSA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults, 2010
Schneider Family Book Award, 2010
CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2010
2010 IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award

⋆ “Artfully crafted characters form the heart of Stork’s (The Way of the Jaguar) judicious novel. Marcelo Sandoval, a 17-year-old with an Asperger’s-like condition, has arranged a job caring for ponies at his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables. But he is forced to exit his comfort zone when his high-powered father steers Marcelo to work in his law firm’s mailroom (in return, Marcelo can decide whether to stay in special ed, as he prefers, or be mainstreamed for his senior year). Narrating with characteristically flat inflections and frequently forgetting to use the first person, Marcelo manifests his anomalies: he harbors an obsession with religion (he regularly meets with a plainspoken female rabbi, though he’s not Jewish); hears “internal” music; and sleeps in a tree house. Readers enter his private world as he navigates the unfamiliar realm of menial tasks and office politics with the ingenuity of a child, his voice never straying from authenticity even as the summer strips away some of his differences. Stork introduces ethical dilemmas, the possibility of love, and other “real world” conflicts, all the while preserving the integrity of his characterizations and intensifying the novel’s psychological and emotional stakes. Not to be missed.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review

⋆ “In what turns out to be considerably more than just another tale told by an intelligent narrator with a spectrum disorder, 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval gets a life-changing taste of the “real world” when he’s forced to take a summer job in his father’s law firm. Comfortable with his limitations but still anxious, Marcelo strikes gold immediately when Jasmine, his supervisor in the Mail Room, turns out to be an uncommonly perceptive young woman - unlike Wendell, the sex-obsessed son of his father’s slimeball legal partner. Vicious office intrigues, Marcelo’s long-standing fascination with religious thought and his discovery of a damning piece of suppressed evidence in a case involving his father’s biggest corporate client all lead to a series of short but deep heart-to-heart conversations about ethics, God’s will and other big questions. In the end Marcelo keeps his feet amid strong emotional currents, makes the hard choices and even maps out a personal future that wasn’t at all clear earlier on. Making good on the promise of his Way of the Jaguar (2000), Stork delivers a powerful tale populated by appealing (and decidedly unappealing) characters and rich in emotional nuance.” - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

⋆ "Like Christopher Boone, the protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time(Doubleday, 2003), Marcelo Sandoval is a high-functioning, extremely self-aware teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. He has an empathetic mother and a father, Arturo, who appears to be less empathetic as he pushes Marcelo to live in the “real world.” The form the real world takes is a summer job in the mailroom at Arturo’s law office. The teen is forced to think on his feet, multitask, and deal with duplicitous people who try to take advantage of him. Over the course of a summer, Marcelo learns that he can function in society; he is especially surprised to find that he can learn to read people’s expressions, even to the point of knowing whom he can and cannot trust. Writing in a first-person narrative, Stork does an amazing job of entering Marcelo’s consciousness and presenting him as a dynamic, sympathetic, and wholly believable character. At a little over 300 pages, the story drags at some points, bogging down in the middle. However, the dilemmas that Marcelo faces are told in a compelling fashion, which helps to keep readers engaged." - School Library Journal, starred review

⋆ “Seventeen-year-old Marcelo Sandoval marches to the beat of a different drummer—literally. He perceives internal music in his head; he is ob-sessed with religion; he has difficulty interacting with others—behaviors that place him at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He is happy at Paterson, the special-education school he’s attended since first grade, and life is comfortable. Then his father proposes an unwelcome deal: if Marcelo proves successful in “the real world” by working in the mailroom at his law firm over the summer, he will be allowed to choose between returning to his beloved Paterson or attending—as his father prefers—a regular high school. But as Marcelo begins his summer job, he finds his moral compass tested just as much as his coping and social skills. His loyalty is divided on multiple levels: between his father and the law firm, between a plaintiff and the law firm, between the privileged son of his father’s law partner who befriends him with dubious motives and the beautiful co-worker who gradually comes to care deeply for him. While the voice is reminiscent of the narrator of Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - both have an appealing blend of naiveté and wisdom - Marcelo has the superior character development. His inspiring, brave journey into the real world will likely engender a fierce protective instinct in readers, ratcheting up the tension as the plot winds to its sweet, satisfying denouement. It is the rare novel that reaffirms a belief in goodness; rarer still is one that does so this emphatically.” - Horn Book, starred review

⋆ “Seventeen-year-old Marcelo is on the very high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He prefers an ordered existence, which includes taking care of the ponies at Paterson, his special school, reading religious books, and listening to the music in his head. Then his father, a high-powered attorney, insists that Marcelo spend the summer working in his law firm. If he does his best, Marcelo will be given the choice of returning to Paterson or being mainstreamed. After finding a photo of a disfigured girl injured by the negligence of his father’s biggest client, Marcelo must decide whether to follow his conscience and try to right the wrong, even as he realizes that decision will bring irrevocable changes to his life and his relationship with his father. That story alone would be thought-provoking, but Stork offers much, much more. Readers are invited inside Marcelo’s head, where thoughts are so differently processed, one can almost feel them stretch and twist as the summer progresses and Marcelo changes. Much of the impetus for change comes from his relationship with his mailroom boss, Jasmine. In a chapter near the end, Jasmine takes Marcelo to the family farm in Vermont, where he meets her raunchy father. It’s a scene many writers wouldn’t have bothered with, but the layers it adds mark Stork as a true storyteller. Shot with spirtualism, laced with love, and fraught with conundrums, this book, like Marcelo himself, surprises.” - Booklist, starred review

"Marcelo’s narration evokes a specific personality as well as somebody dealing with a challenging difference in cognition; it’s believable that he, with his thoughtfulness and his long experience of focused schooling, would be keenly self-aware about the elements of his atypicality, and Stork offers a touch of perspective in Marcelo’s familiarity with kids who have to struggle far harder than he does.... Readers won’t have to share Marcelo’s difficulties to find his dilemma thought-provoking, and whether they do or not, they’ll find his experience enlightening." - Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“[I]n the skillful hands of Francisco X. Stork, 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval is the bravest, most original hero I’ve met in years…[A] brisk, brilliant, unsentimental novel…” - Robert Lipsyte, New York Times Book Review

“Part coming-of-age story, part mystery and wholly compelling…” - Washington Post

“While several recent books have used the conceit of an autistic protagonist, this thoughtful novel full of complicated characters is unique.” - Chicago Sun-Times

“Stork has written a beautiful study of the loss of innocence, as the questions Marcelo confronts are ones everyone has to grapple with in some form or other…” - Los Angeles Times

Purchase Options
Indiebound • Scholastic Store • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Spring 2009
Young Adult Fiction
ISBN: 0-545-05474-5
Price: $17.99 US / $19.99 CAN
Trim Size: 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"
Page Count: 320
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? yes

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