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.
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