Marcelo in the Real World is a realistic story about a boy with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. I learned a lot about Asperger’s when I read the memoir Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison. Marcelo’s story, because it is fiction and about a teenager, will resonate with teen readers and I think they will get a very accurate sense of what this disorder entails.
Marcelo’s “real world” is his dad’s legal office. Marcelo has always gone to a special school, Paterson, and has had a summer job working with the horses at the school. His father has decided Marcelo needs to be exposed to more of the real world, and decides that Marcelo should work in the mail room at his law office. If Marcelo is “successful” he can return to Paterson in the fall. If not, he will be required to attend the public school.
The best thing about this book is that while you are seeing the world through Marcelo’s eyes, you begin to think that maybe we all should be more like Marcelo. He takes everything at face value. He responds to things very slowly, because he thinks things through very carefully. He can’t do two or more things at one time – he needs to concentrate on one task at a time. All of these traits could be seen as beneficial to anyone.
Jasmine is Marcelo’s boss in the mail room. She is a wonderful, realistic character, and because of her attitudes and behaviors, Marcelo adjusts well to his new environment. Marcelo’s job becomes complicated because he has to not only work in the mail room, but also has to work for a young lawyer, Wendell, who is unscrupulous. Marcelo has to make ethical decisions that would be difficult for anyone, and are even more so with Marcelo’s way of looking at the world.
Marcelo has a supportive family, but his father obviously has problems with Marcelo’s disorder. He wants the best for his son, and in pursuing this goal, he sometimes makes the wrong decisions – but don’t all parents do this from time to time?
Marcelo’s discovery, which sums up the book perfectly: “For all the pain I saw at Paterson, it is nothing compared to the pain that people inflict upon each other in the real world.” (p. 302)
The book was easily readable, and I think teens who are interested in a realistic, interesting story about a teen struggling to find himself will enjoy this.