Friday, June 12, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World by Francis X Stork

I know when I read book blogs sometimes, I wonder if people ever find a book that they just struggle through because they don't like it, can't get into it, or it just wasn't meant for them. Every review they write seems laudatory, and perhaps they really do just like *everything*. I'm not one of those readers.

Marcelo in the Real World was the most difficult read I've had so far this year. It's not a challenging text, but I found myself not engaging with the characters, not enjoying the storyline, and being frustrated with a theme that has been done a lot recently. Moreover, I found myself questioning the intended audience for the book and unable to really nail it down well.

Marcelo in the Real World is a story about Marcelo's summer living and working "in the real world" of his father's law firm. He had in the past been employed as a helper on a camp that caters to those with autism and aspergers. His father told him he had to take this job to become accustomed to working around every day people, as it was his goal to have Marcelo sent to a traditional high school, rather than the specialized school he attends. The deal between the two was that when Marcelo finished the summer successfully, he could choose where he would go to school the next fall. The book follows Marcelo's adventures in the law firm, as well as some of the important relationships he forges with normally functioning people.

Throughout the blogosphere, there is a lot of praise for this book as a wonderful coverage of a young person handling his aspbergers. However, I found the treatment quite weak; this book seemed like it was another version of one of the many others on the topic or similar topics, and I think it was a much weaker coverage. Marcelo is a character who you don't learn enough about to gain trust of or sympathy for, and I found the auxiliary characters even less enjoyable. The premise of the story seemed interesting enough, but the execution left a lot to be desired for me. Marcelo doesn't seem to allow readers his struggles with aspergers which makes the premise a little tough to really connect to.

Audience-wise, I had a hard time placing this one. I'm not quite sure the intended age group, as I think that the theme is fitting for a younger teen audience -- those who may relate to Marcelo's cognitive age/state -- but the writing itself and Marcelo himself are geared toward older teens who I don't necessarily think would find the story all that engaging. I say this not because the book is poorly written but instead because there are many similar books that are written much stronger, with more developed characters and thicker plot lines.

Although I am a proponent of every book having a reader, I think that this would not be a go-to for me. I would rather offer, for example, Marc Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Siobhan Dowd's The London Eye Mystery, or Nora Raleigh Baskin's Anything But Typical. Each of those titles have better drawn characters and more engaging story lines than Stock's book, but without a doubt, Marcelo falls into this ever-expanding genre of books about the poorly understood autism/aspbergers issues. Certainly, Stork's book has found a good following of readers, as seen from the great reviews and the high ratings in both Amazon and Good Reads. But me? I struggled.

3 comments:

  1. I find it so annoying when I read a book that has been praised to the sky and I can't get in to it. I have a copy of this book at home (TWO actually) and I have yet to pick it up. Since I trust your reading taste, I think this book just got bumped down about 5(0) notches on my priority list.

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  2. It made me sad how much I couldn't get into it because I thought this might finally be the right rendering of this syndrome. Alas, it was not, and I could not. :( I stand on the ground I'm mostly confused about the readership of the title -- seems to me geared for adults more than youth but marketed to youth instead.

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  3. I just finished the book and am fascinated by your review. I thought the book was very well-written and I found it easy to get into. I liked Marcelo and had a lot of sympathy for him. I also thought the supporting characters were well done. I do, however, think that the use of music as a metaphor, and religion for that matter, make this book more adult because I suspect it will try the patience of many YA readers.

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