Monday, January 03, 2011

The Real World

I am so loving Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork.  I won't be the first one to compare the narrator's voice to that of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I'll say I like this one much better.  Marcelo is more self-aware than Christopher, less trapped inside himself.  He doesn't have an official diagnosis, and he seems to be "higher functioning" than the other character.   I think this can make it easier to relate to him.

It helps that the problems he has are very easy to relate to.  He's nervous about his new summer job and feels in over his head, unsure of all the politics and machinations that are going on around him.  His father wants him to leave his special school, where he trains horses and takes Social Interaction classes along with history and science.  Marcelo and his father have a cautiously respectful relationship, but they really don't understand each other.  It's a story that could play out even if Marcelo thought like other people; his problems are mine, too.

I find myself rooting so hard for him that every little success or stumbling block seems monumental.  Will he finish the photocopying on time?  Will he connect with his father in this conversation?  And, through it all, the question of whether he'll get to decide where he goes to school in the fall--to his comfortable Paterson or the "real world" school his father wants him to attend? 

I'm afraid I can guess the answer to the last question--the after school special, pat answer is that he'll succeed at his summer job and his father will follow through on their bargain and let him choose, but, having found that he can handle the real world, he'll choose the regular school.  That would kind of suck, because he's not "normal," typical, whatever you want to call it.  Marcelo IS special.  I'm afraid the book won't give that fact enough honor in the end. 

But I won't spoil it for you.  Nothing I've said here isn't in the first two chapters, and if I have to come back and rant or rave about the end, I'll do it in the comments.  So if you don't like spoilers, you'll probably want to skip the comments on this one!


LibraryHungry said...

Oh, I finished it. Really, really wonderful. I see what Mrs. N meant in her comment a few posts ago--at the end of the book, Marcelo seems less autistic than he did before. He's changed in ways that don't necessarily seem consistent with the limitations he starts out with. The fact that Marcelo doesn't have Asperger's but an undiagnosed syndrome similar to AS is probably to cover that inconsistency.

But I found the story so satisfying, so balanced, so appealing, I'm happy to look past that. What a sweet, intelligent, enjoyable book.

Mrs. N said...

Yeah, you nailed it. I was really bothered by the idea that this is something you could outgrow or be cured of. Yes, many many people with ASD/PDD can learn to be fairly well functioning adults, but it's absolute crap that if you try hard enough it goes away.

As a teacher I had a pretty hard time swallowing what they were asking me to, that Marcelo is now pretty much normal, because he reached out enough and had people who could see him enough. I think it would have been possible to show growth without going for the perfect happy ending. I just feel like it's selling a false bill of goods (one that many parents/teachers would readily buy).

I also worry that if people read this as truth, they'll fault people with ASD/PDD who don't function as highly as Marcelo - maybe they're just not trying enough. And I find that unsettling.