Book Review: “Marcelo in the Real World”

“Marcelo in the Real World” by Francisco X. Stork

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contmporary

Source: Bought

Summary from Goodreads:

Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear–part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify–and he’s always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm’s mailroom in order to experience “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.


My freshman year of college I had to write a small research paper about Autism. Ever since then, I’ve been endlessly fascinated with learning more about the condition. I can spend hours watching Discovery Health Channel documentaries about the disorder. When I heard a classmate talk about this book in class, I knew this was something that I needed to read.

This was a refreshing take on the condition. I’ve noticed lately that Autism and other disorders on the spectrum have started popping up in pop culture all over the place. Some mediums don’t handle it as well as they could (I’m looking at you, The Big Bang Theory) but this book deals with the issue very well.

Marcelo feels so real. He’s not the butt of jokes (at least by the author). He’s just a kid trying make his way in this world the best he can. I have acquaintances on the spectrum so having a ‘background’ on the disorder made the book even better.

The style was very stiff and rigid. Starting the book, I was taken aback by it but considering that’s really how Marcello would speak, it was easy to get used to. By the end of the story, I found the style a bit endearing.

I adored Marcelo. You really couldn’t help but like him. He’s not the typical hero but you know he’s just as brave and tough as the rest of the heroes out there. He’s certainly braver than I would be in his shoes. I don’t know if I could stand up to a whole law firm and do what he did. I really liked the voice of his character.

All of the characters were very true to life. You definitely felt like you knew them (and likely knew someone like them). Wendell absolutely drove me crazy. Marcelo’s father was horrible but at least he was trying to do what he thought was best. I either loved or hated the rest of the characters. There was no in-between which was a little odd.

This is one of those tricky books. It’s labeled Young Adult but it really doesn’t read like one. The only typical qualities of a young adult book this book has is the protagonist is a teen and it’s a bit of a coming of age story. It could easily be an adult book. So if even you’re not a fan of young adult books, give this a shot.

The only thing that irked me was they never were able to diagnose Marcelo’s condition. For anyone who is familiar with Autism, you immediately suspect he has Asperger’s but not all the symptoms add up right. I don’t know if this was intentionally the author’s choice or if he just couldn’t finish up that aspect of the book. It’s not anything that takes away from the story, I just want closure.

Rating 4/5

Looking for a book with a lot of heart? Pick this up.


13 thoughts on “Book Review: “Marcelo in the Real World”

  1. As a huge supporter of the Big Bang Theory, I must defend it by saying that it never actually says in the show that Sheldon has Autism, that is just what the writer based his character on. In fact, Sheldon is supposed to represent Aspergers syndrome which is only one representation of Autism. I have worked with three different kids with Aspergers syndrome and even though Sheldon may be slightly exaggerated, it is a very accurate depiction of the students that I have worked with. One kid used to try to blow me up with his mind, just like Sheldon does sometime in the show.

  2. I feel like I read an interview with the author where he said that he specifically didn’t make Marcelo’s condition exactly Asperger’s (which anyway is being collapsed into the autism spectrum in the new DMV). So if my memory serves, it was deliberate!

    • Ahh, good to know! I guess it makes sense to have a disorder that doesn’t quite fit since the spectrum has been widened and thus includes more “shades” of Autism.

  3. I really liked this book, too, but had trouble with the ending. I can’t remember exactly what irked me about it, it had something to do with Marcelo’s condition ‘getting better’, which seemed unrealistic to me. But I did really like Marcelo himself, I thought he was a fantastic character.

    • Yeah, the ending felt a bit like “If I try really hard, I can get better”. That may be possible but I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen over the summer.

  4. I was really surprised to discover this one had been labeled YA. I listened to it a while back assuming it was an adult novel and was not disappointed. I agree with you that Marcelo was irresistible and that the rigid style eventually came to feel right. I felt like Autism was interestingly and well explored, at least in terms of Marcelo, and that the novel gave me some insight into the condition I did not have before.

  5. Pingback: Listed: Male Protagonists | The Cheap Reader

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