So Many Books, So Little Time: ‘Marcelo in the Real World,’ by Francisco X. Stork

Violetta Armour

If you were to look for this title in a bookstore or library, it would be shelved under Young Adult, but it is also a story that will touch adult hearts and keep them turning pages to see how a 17-year-old deals with a moral crisis that deeply affects the adults in his world.

Marcelo Sandoval is a high-functioning, extremely aware teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. He has led an ordered and protected existence in a Boston suburb with his empathetic mother, a nurse, and his high-power-attorney father. Marcelo attends a special private school, which he loves, where he takes courses in social interaction and works with therapy ponies.

But his father Arturo, an ambitious Mexican-American who was top of his Harvard Law class, thinks Marcelo needs skills to survive in the “real world.” He strikes a deal with him the summer before his senior year. If Marcelo can follow the rules of the “real world” by working in the mailroom of the firm’s hectic office, he will allow Marcelo to return to his safe-harbor school for his senior year. If he fails, he must attend the public high school.

The challenge is set, and what happens that summer sets in motion a series of events that neither father nor son could have foreseen.

Marcelo is forced to think on his feet, multi-task, and deal with deceptive people who try to take advantage of him. He learns about jealousy, competition, anger, and desire. But it’s a photograph of a girl with half a face that truly connects him with the world of suffering. Empathy for her is the stirring of his emotional coming-of-age as he is compelled to solve the mystery behind the face. His moral compass is then tested as much as his social coping skills when he uncovers a piece of suppressed evidence in a case involving his father’s biggest corporate client.

With the help of Jasmine, the beautiful mailroom employee who has taken him under her wing, Marcelo struggles to find the courage to do the right thing, at the risk of betraying his father.

His inspiring and brave journey into the real world endears him to readers, and in first-person narrative, we are invited into his thought process, which is so different, both innocent and wise. A New York Times review describes his voice as one of “heartbreaking honesty.”

The Washington Post says, “Part coming of age, part mystery, and wholly compelling.”

Published in 2009, the book received 15 awards by the year 2012.

Like Marcelo’s father, author Stork is also of Hispanic descent and a practicing attorney in Boston. Educated at Harvard and Columbia Law School, he says he writes for young people to walk beside them as they discover their true selves and their unique gifts.

I consider Marcelo in the Real World a unique gift to all readers.

Reviewer Violetta Armour, is a former bookstore owner of Pages in Ahwatukee. She is currently a Sun Lakes resident and author of five novels, including three mysteries, all available on Amazon. Her debut novel I’ll Always Be With You has received several awards.