Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World
By Francisco Stork

Another book for the Autism spectrum children’s book project.

This is the story of Marcelo, a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who is forced to work at his father’s law firm for the summer in order to earn his right to stay at his specialized high school and prove that he can function in the ‘real world.’

Marcelo, who spends a lot of time “remembering” and listening to the music that plays in his own mind, has always attended a private, specialized school. His father, who is not entirely convinced that Asperger’s is a valid condition, forces Marcelo to work in an environment where everyone assumes he is retarded, where he is disrespected, where he is uncomfortable, in order to prove a point: if Marcelo is successful in the real world (whatever that means), then he will be able to return to the specialized school for his senior year. If he fails, he will have to attend a standard public high school.

Take a minute to process this problematic concept.

Stork did a great job of conveying what Asperger’s is as well as demonstrating the benefits for a person’s life.  He also was successful in demonstrating that no one really ever successfully navigates the real world: though I am not entirely sure that he intended to do so.

Have you taken the time to really consider the basic premise of this book?
So much of the narrative is wrapped around hints about Marcelo “getting better.” Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t realize that autism was an illness or that there was a cure. How nice of this book to inform me! Turns out, all you need to get over Asperger’s syndrome is for a woman to pay attention to you. Can you believe it?! Think of all of the time and money wasted in special education!

Here’s the thing: this book isn’t terrible. The plot is engaging, Marcelo is completely endearing, and Stork is a talented writer. The problem is that this book, however subtly, reinforces the same stereotypical problems that most popular fiction/films demonstrate when dealing with people with disabilities. People outside of the disability suck (you either have total compassion and understanding or you have none and are incapable of developing any), people with the disability want to become “normal,” normality is possible in general...

You have to keep in mind that I am reading this with the intention of examining the presence of autism and how this book would fare with children with autism and their families. While this was an entertaining and well-written book (aside from the fact that it kinda just seems like Stork got tired and rushed to tie up everything in a nice little bow), I am not entirely sure what it offers in terms of this prerogative. 

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