Review: Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

I love it that this author’s name is Francisco X. Stork.  There is nothing about that name that I do not love.  I would read more of this guy’s books based solely on the fact that his name is Francisco X. Stork.  I wish my name were Stork, except Jenny Stork is not nearly as amazing as Francisco X. Stork.  So never mind, I guess.

Marcelo Sandoval has an autism spectrum mental issue that doctors have been unable to identify.  Since first grade he has attended a special education school, but when he is seventeen his father tells him that he must work in his father’s law firm for the summer.  At the end of the summer, if he has succeeded “in the real world”, his father will permit him to choose whether to return to the special education school, or attend the regular high school for his senior year.

I am having such a hard time writing this review!  Because I enjoyed reading this book so much while I was in it.  I couldn’t put it down.  In fact I used it (and a trip to the library) to bribe myself to go grocery shopping on Saturday morning.  When I had grocery shopped I got the treat of getting new books from the library and finishing Marcelo.  I liked it a lot.  I liked it that Marcelo is not simplistic in his approach to the moral difficulties he encounters at his father’s law firm.  I enjoyed seeing him develop a relationship with Jasmine, who supervises him in the law firm mail room.  Relationships and big life decisions are rarely simple, and the book knows it.

My very favorite thing about this book is Marcelo’s father Arturo.  Although he’s not the most open, confiding guy, we learn a lot about him over the course of the book.  And oh how Arturo breaks my heart.  I was planning to hate him!  Yes, I was.  I was thinking, oh, he’s the evil lawyer, he’s the father who refuses to believe in his son’s autism-spectrum-thingy or participate in his care, I shall hate him forever.  I was even thinking, Oh, Francisco Stork, it had to be the caring nurturing mother and the distant father?  Dude, I was not right at all.  Arturo is such a good character, and Stork gives him so many layers with such economy.  A few quick words about Arturo here and there in the mouths of different characters, like the loathsome partner’s son calling him a “minority hire”, make a remarkable difference in how you perceive him.

You know what Stork does also, that I really love?  He puts in a road-not-taken character, a sort of other-Arturo: this guy called Jerry Garcia, who went to law school with Arturo and now has a small private practice of his own working with poor Spanish-speaking clients.  I love a good road-not-taken character.  I am absolutely mad for a road-not-taken character.  Do you like them?  Hate them?  If someone’s life hadn’t gone this way but had gone that way instead, they’d be this person instead.  Joss Whedon is superb at road-not-taken characters.  I have said this before.  Joss Whedon does road-not-taken characters like a god.*

However, there were other aspects of the book that bothered me.  Arturo’s law firm partner’s son, Wendell, is also working at the law firm for the summer, and he’s this utterly scummy character with no redeeming features, who befriends Marcelo and tries to use him to get to Jasmine, Marcelo’s supervisor.  He makes jokes at Marcelo’s expense and pronounces his name wrong and tries to drive wedges between Marcelo and Arturo.  If he had had a handlebar mustache, he would have twirled it.  I found him a bit much.

I have a feeling of unease that centers on Marcelo’s social functioning and how it changes over the course of the book; but I cannot exactly put my finger on what it was that troubled me.  I do not feel good about this aspect of the book.  Did anyone else have this reaction at all?  Can we discuss this?  I am not sure what my problem was, but it interfered with my enjoyment of the latter half of the book.

*Which I guess makes up for his penchant for replacing a departed character with a character as opposite to them as possible.  I have put this in a footnote because it contains massive spoilers for multiple seasons of Buffy and Angel, so don’t keep reading if you haven’t already watched them.  Joss Whedon, I love you, but that never works.  Did anyone like anti-Angel Riley?  No.  Did anyone like anti-Tara Kennedy?  No.  But when Doyle died, even though I thought he was irreplaceable, I adored Wesley’s character the second he showed up.  Wesley, you see, being his own man, and not just Doyle in negative.  Please bear this in mind and just make up fresh new characters without reference to the ones that have come before.  I promise it will make things better.

Other reviews:

Book Addiction
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ReadingJunky’s Reading Roost
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YA Books Central Blog
Confessions of a Bibliovore
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1330v

Tell me if I missed yours!

I love it that this author’s name is Francisco X. Stork.  There is nothing about that name that I do not love.  I would read more of this guy’s books based solely on the fact that his name is Francisco X. Stork.  I wish my name were Stork, except Jenny Stork is not nearly as amazing as Francisco X. Stork.  So never mind, I guess.
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46 thoughts on “Review: Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

  1. I have this on my shelf but have yet to get to it. In the meantime, I LOVE your review! Everything from the fantastic name to the handlebar mustache. Brilliant. 😀

  2. I also loved Jerry Garcia. I got the impression he was Stork’s alter ego. And didn’t you love Jasmine?!!!

    I spent a long time working at law firms. I swear Wendell is *not* over the top!

    I agree that Marcelo’s level of functioning changed, but I got the impression that he *used* a lower level at home as sort of a response to his parents expectations and his relationship with them.

    • Really, Wendell is an accurate representation of lawyers you worked with? I feel like I am so naive sometimes! And you have a good point about Marcelo and the way his behavior changed based on what was expected of them; I’m just not sure how comfortable I felt with it. I know Stork wasn’t trying to make a statement about autism-spectrum disorders, but I wasn’t in love with the suggestion that people with autism are functioning at lower levels because they haven’t been exposed to the real world. Unfair! I know! He’s not making generalizations about autism at all. I just didn’t feel great about it.

  3. Wow, so many people have reviewed this book and I’ve never heard of it. And that is not a name you’d forget easy. I do agree that it is wholly joyful. Lovely review – I’ll keep an eye out for the book now.

    • To be honest, I think the main reason I picked up this book so quickly after hearing about it for the first time is that the author’s name was memorable. I was in the library and suddenly remembered to look for Stork in the YA section. 🙂

  4. I’m really looking forward to reading this book in the next couple of weeks. It is great that you couldn’t put it down – I love books like that! I didn’t realise that so many people had read it either – I thought I was going to be one of the first!

    • I thought I was too! I was really surprised when I started searching for other reviews and found so many of them. Now I’m wondering how I managed to go so long without hearing about it!

  5. What an interesting and funny post. Any connection to Joss Whedon piques my interest, and yes, I love road-not-taken characters, but anti-doppel-ganger types.

    I haven’t even heard of this book, but thanks for putting it on my radar!

    • Hahaha, there’s only a connection to Joss Whedon in my mind, because I love how good he is at that type of character. But yes, it’s a good book, very well worth reading!

  6. I love the author’s name, too! How many people have a middle initial of “X”?! Not many.

    Great review as well- I have heard nothing but good about this book and really hope that I can find a copy for myself to read at some point. It sounds like a lovely and real story.

  7. What do you do about frozen foods? Milk? Chocolate in summer? A branch library shares the parking lot with my grocery store, and I never go there for fear of stuff starting to spoil in the car. If I go to the library first, I’m no longer steeled for the task of grocery shopping!

    This sounds like just the kind of book I would like, aside from the atmosphere of a summer office job.

    X is the best middle initial.

    You’re very right about Joss Whedon. I skipped the spoiler. (Thanks. I always appreciate a warning.) Der Mann and I stopped watching it halfway through season 4 because for us it had become a cruel mockery of the joys of Buffy. Should we give it another try?

    • I, um, I don’t really cook? So I don’t buy that many perishable things. If I’ve bought fresh fruit I usually don’t stop anywhere on the way back from the grocery store, but I don’t worry that much about, for instance, cheese.

      You stopped? Where at? What didn’t you like about it? Because there are some things about the fourth season I didn’t like, but a lot of them cleared up as it went on. You didn’t by any chance have some objection to Anya, did you? My mind leaps to that because I think Anya is SO GREAT and as I was watching the fourth series with my big sister, I kept demanding she tell me when Anya was coming back. 😛

      • We stopped with the DVD where Faith comes back and has a showdown with Angelus, and Connor + divine Cordelia (or is she divine then? It’s been a couple of years.)

        Anya is great!! I haven’t followed any of the Buffy love on the web. Probably tons of people have already said this, but what made the show so awesome was the seamless ensemble. There were no main characters who were a blot on the show. Nobody where you’d groan and say to yourself, “oh, they’re doing a whole show about HER.” It got them through even when the scripts were a little sup-par.

        The Angel ensemble was that way sometimes, but not all the time. Subjective, maybe? The retro forties noir detective vibe leaves me cold. And LA. I cared more about high school kids saving the world starting in Sunnydale than twenty-somethings saving the world starting with LA.

        But probably the main thing (please don’t hate me!) was that Angel was my least favorite character. He pulled his weight in Buffy, he just wasn’t who I would have chosen to carry a whole show on his own. It always seemed to me like David Boreanaz wasn’t having any fun unless he got to be Angelus. Which made sense, because that was when he got the best scripts. Same with Xander. By the end of Buffy I sensed that Nicholas Brendon was totally bitter about being relegated to supportive chump position, with nothing to do but make a couple of Xandery remarks per episode.

        Also, I enjoyed Cordelia a lot more when she didn’t have to be the responsible mom/secretary type.

      • OH. The fourth series of ANGEL. No! No, no need to start up again if you’d stopped enjoying it. I thought you’d stopped in the middle of the fourth series of BUFFY, which, God, if you did that, you’d miss out on some of the very best of Buffy.

        Yeah, Angel got sort of lame in the fourth series. My sister and I carried on watching it because we’re completists, but we thought everything went dramatically downhill after Wesley did his Bad Deed and then became all, you know, beardy and no glasses and no fun. We missed old-school Wesley embedding adzes in walls by accident.

  8. Thanks for the link! I agree, this was an awesome book and I’m a little sad it didn’t get more award-love. Are you going to read his next one, Last Summer of the Death Warriors?

  9. I think I need to read this. I’ve seen so many good reviews but just haven’t taken the plunge. I will do it, I will!

    Also, ❤ Joss Whedon.

  10. This book sounds fabulous! What a great storyline.

    I often reward myself with reading by forcing myself to run errands first too and then I can take the afternoon off and read! It’s nice to see other’s do that as well 🙂

    • Yeah, I always try to read in the afternoons, run errands in the morning. By the time afternoon rolls around, I lose all motivation to do errands.

  11. of course, now I’m wondering if I’ve just forgotten – pls don’t point out to me if I’ve ever commented on a post/review of this somewhere. or I’ll be embarrasssed.

    sigh

  12. Francisco X. Stork IS an awesome name!

    I haven’t read this yet, but when I do I’ll probably come back and comment on the bits you had trouble with properly 😛

    • Do, because I’m curious what other people think. I finally managed to put my finger on what bothered me about the portrayal of Marcelo’s autism-thing, but I kind of want to see if it’s just me who felt that way.

  13. 😀 I like the tags you put. I’m sure someone out there will one day google how much they are jealous of other people’s names and then they won’t feel alone.

    • I am jealous of ever so many names. I like “Jenny” a lot, but sometimes I wish I had a slightly fancier name. I considered picking something fancy for my confirmation name, like Cecelia (love the name Cecelia!), but I ended up going with Julian, which isn’t even really a girl’s name. Sigh.

  14. This is a great review, because I really hadn’t noticed how much I grew to like Arturo over the course of the novel, but you’re totally right. I’m not sure what you felt uncomfortable about, you’ll have to specify. I wonder if maybe there *SPOILER* had been some kind of conclusion about what happened later, like with how much he matured or how he handled his new found success in the “real world”? I dunno. I’d be happy to discuss though! 😀

    • Okay, I’ve thought about it a lot, and this is what I think bothered me. At the end of the book, Marcelo’s level of functioning has increased dramatically, and he’s able to do a lot of things he wasn’t able to do; and this expansion of his functioning is part of the plot of the book. So his autism-spectrum-thing felt less like an attempt to portray an autism-spectrum-thing in a sympathetic, realistic way, and more like Francisco Stork just thought it would be neat to write a book using an autism-spectrum-thing-having character as a narrator. And I didn’t like that.

      • Hey Jenny

        I think those are interesting points, but it didn’t particularly bother me while I was reading the book. I guess I view autism as mainly something that impedes function in a “normal” way. If a book has a narrator with OCD or schizophrenia or some other pervasive disability that interferes with their functioning in the world, we generally expect a change in their ability to navigate everyday life as the story progresses, even if that’s not the point of the book, simply because they have to meet impossible challenges and conquer them.

        Now I realize autism is a whole different game, on a different planet, from OCD or schizophrenia. Still, the rise in Marcelo’s ability to function and his enhanced understanding of the world seemed like a logical extension of somebody struggling with a disorder and in some ways surmounting it. Not totally, because he’ll always have the disorder, but he’s better able to work around it because of his experiences of the summer. Ironically, his dad was right–he did need time away from his cocoon, in the real world.

        Maybe Stork did put Marcelo on the autism spectrum simply in order to play with a narrator/protagonist who has a highly unique experience of the world. But it didn’t bug me, because I think his treatment of the disorder was realistic, even with the change in Marcelo’s functioning. I’d be annoyed if Marcelo was magically cured, but he wasn’t.

        Of course, I’m not an autism expert. If someone who is would like to chime in and tell me I’m crazy, please do!

      • To me, I guess it smacked a little too much of a magic cure. I know that it wasn’t a cure, and that he was going to continue to struggle with it, but I felt like the story was implying that people with mild autism just need to get out of their comfort zone to improve dramatically.

        I may be being completely oversensitive though!

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  17. Really enjoyed the first half of the book but found the second half unsettling. I have interacted with many autistic or Asperger’s children and teens. Marcelo just didn’t ring true, especially in the second half of the book. He was much too aware of his own emotions and too flexible to be an Asperger’s kid. That said, a young reader is unlikely to have that knowledge and will probably really enjoy the book.

    • I haven’t had the same experience with autism-spectrum kids, but for me too, Marcelo didn’t ring true. Good to know it was the same for someone with a lot of knowledge of autism. 🙂

  18. Pingback: Marcelo in the Real World – Francisco Stork – Farm Lane Books Blog

  19. I finished this book yesterday and totally felt uneasy about Marcelo’s ‘miracle cure.’ So glad to see I’m not the only one. I feel so conflicted because I loved the rest of the story and Marcelo … but … UNEASE!

    I will have to think about this more so I can better articulate it when I write my review.

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