Marcelo in the Real World is a beautifully written novel and one of those stories that will stay in your mind long after you've finished reading it.
The story is told in the first person from the point of view of Marcelo, an autistic 17-year old. When the novel begins, Marcelo is going to a private school for special children, where he is happy and looking forward to a pleasant summer job working with ponies. But things change when his father Arturo Sandoval, a well-respected lawyer, asks him to come and work at his firm for the summer instead.
But that's not all. Arturo also wants him to leave the special school and attend his last year of high school at a regular public school for 'normal' children. Marcelo doesn't want this, and so his father gives him a choice: he'll be able to stay at the special school if he still wishes so at the end of summer, but only if Marcelo takes the summer job at the firm and is successful in the real world under this real world's rules. Marcelo accepts.
The heart of the novel revolves around his job there and the relationships he develops with some of his co-workers. Not only does Marcelo discovers things about himself and his interactions with people, but also about his father, whom he had always kept in a pedestal as an honest and just man. Is Marcelo able to succeed in the real world? And at the end, is he able to choose what he wants to do with his life?
I was hooked from page one. Marcelo's voice is honest and vibrant and after only a few pages he comes across as a genuine human being who is very much alive and not just a fictional character. The author has done an amazing job in getting inside the mind of an autistic teenager and telling us his story. The prose shines with simplistic beauty without being lyrical. In spite of this being a serious novel, I found myself glued to the pages as if I were reading a work of suspense. Marcelo is so real and I cared so much about his predicament, that I felt the need to keep reading until I had finished it. In fact, I read the whole novel in two evenings; it kept me hooked late into the night. What makes this novel special is not only the fact that the protagonist suffers from autism, but also his evolution throughout the novel as a human being. The novel offers a wonderful character arc.
Another aspect I found fascinating is Marcelo's complex relationship with his father, who can't quite come to terms with his son's condition. I also learned a lot of things about what it means to be autistic. This is a must-read for those readers interested in understanding autism, or for anyone who enjoys a compelling, deftly written novel.
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Her book, The Art of Book Reviewing, was a 2008 ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. Author's website