Teen Book Reviews
The good thing about working in a library is that you often find gems on the shelves. One such example is the award-winning book reviewed below, Marcelo in the Real World:
For most of his life, Marcelo Sandoval has been sheltered from the real world by his mother. He has a disability similar to autism, but he is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum. Other people think he’s slow, but Marcelo just takes time to think things through and to listen to the internal music in his head. While Marcelo’s mother is very supportive, his father is a bit more skeptical, and wants to see Marcelo become more involved in the real world and more independent. To that end, he makes Marcelo come and work in the mail room of the law firm he runs during the summer of his junior year of high school. If Marcelo can successfully navigate the rules of the real world, he will be allowed to choose whether to stay at his special private school (what he wants) or attend a regular public high school (what his father wants). He makes some friends and enemies during his time at the law firm, but when he finds a picture of a disfigured girl tossed in the trash, his decisions to go against his father may cost him everything he holds dear…except for his humanity.
This book is an excellent title on many levels. Character development is the driving force of the novel. Just as his father hoped, Marcelo slowly but surely starts to function better in the real world due to his time at the law firm. However, he cannot help but be embarrassed by how slowly he does things compared to other people. As he says “in the real world, fast is better.” His budding relationship with Jasmine is very heartfelt, and never gets graphic because of how Marcelo learns to recognize his feelings. In addition, we see Marcelo’s strength of character when he questions what his father does and make the decision to take matters into his own hands, regardless of the consequences to himself. The plot of the book itself is a bit thin and has little action, and while the setting of the book is firmly in the Boston area, not enough details are provided for it to be truly immersive. Regardless, this book deserves a place on the shelf of every library collection, if only for the insight into the minds of autistic teens that it provides.
Marcelo in the Real World is recommended for mid- and late teen readers. Check out this moving book at Northeast Library and other branches of the DC Public Library.