Monday, 21 November 2011

review: Marcelo in the Real World

by Franciso X. Stork
Scholastic Press, 2010
contemporary young adult
received from publisher (thank you!)

Thanks to an autism-like condition, Marcelo Sandoval hears music that sets him in his own world. But his father doesn't truly believe in his son's deficiency, and challenges Marcelo to spend a summer working at his law office and getting to know the real world. There, Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising co-worker, and Wendell, a competing partner's son; he'll also learn about the bewildering dynamics a relationship can have and about the injustice and suffering the world can hold.
The cover:

The way the title text is fit into a neat rectangle with different colours is pleasingly stylish, and silhouettes have always worked well on covers; here it makes for a gorgeous scene. Aspects of the cover don't ring true when compared with the book, but it's definitely eye-catching in a subtle way.

The book:

The hype surrounding this title seemed like the ideal amount: mentioned a few times in literary publications, a starred review in Publishers Weekly, winner of a somewhat-obscure book award. (Huh. My idea of "ideal hype" doesn't involve any raving book blog reviews. It'd be interesting to examine that idea further.) But it looks like my expectations still ended up a wee bit too high.

Let's start with Marcelo. He's introduced to the reader in a variety of situations in which he's comfortable, allowing us time to get used to his unique viewpoint. There are pages solid with passages of his narration that are, not if exactly likeable, certainly thought-provoking. And perhaps in that Stork has accomplished the most impressive feat of capturing the true voice of a teen with Asperger's; an ordinary person wouldn't ever comprehend the way he or she thinks.

One strike against this book is the side characters. Oh, they're all intricately layered, but none are quite all the way on Marcelo's side. Therefore, the feeling that we're in over our heads never goes away, which makes the 300 pages a little uncomfortable. Rabbi Heschel is a spout of wit and wisdom; in contrast, Wendell is cruel pond scum and Arturo (Marcelo's father) isn't worthy of his son. Even Jasmine stays a bit too enigmatic for my taste.

(Goodness. At this rate, I'll probably end up nominating Namu as my favourite side character.)

The first fifteen or so chapters are paced on the slow side, with Stork laying down the groundwork through Marcelo's observations of his workplace. What the groundwork was for soon becomes apparent, and it's that particular mystery that rings true the most (and also picks up the pace). Instead of facing touchy issues like lust, competition and hate, injustice is at the heart of this plotline, making it much easier for the reader to side with Marcelo.

Okay, I'm just going to drop all remaining vestiges of professionalism here and say Marcelo in the Real World didn't ring a chord, though I felt like it had the potential to. It's definitely still worth a read, because I can see the good parts of it. It's just not for me, I guess.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5