As many youth within the autism spectrum transition into adulthood, the next decade will be an especially important time. I want to share one of my favorite young adult fiction novels, where the protagonist is faced with that very challenge.
Marcelo in the Real World, a brilliant and authentic novel written by Francisco X. Stork, allows the reader to experience the life of a high-functioning 17-year-old boy, who has a unique form of autism commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Stork has created an endearing character in Marcelo Sandoval, who is raw and honest in the way he perceives the world. The book is written in first person, although he highlights Marcel’s flat inflection of voice, his use of third person in conversations, and his obsessive interests. He gives us a glimpse into his mind.
Marcelo has led a fairly protective life attending private schools for kids with disabilities. He is looking forward to a summer job as a stable man at the school, caring for the ponies. As Marcelo ends his junior year, his father, Arturo, feels differently. He wants Marcelo to experience the real world, and spend the summer working at his law firm interacting daily with workers. Arturo strikes a bargain with Marcelo. If he follows the rules of the real world and succeeds, he will be able to decide whether to return to his private school for his senior year, or attend a public high school.
Marcelo works in the mailroom where he is supervised by Jasmine, a striking co-worker, who confronts Marcelo about his “cognitive disorder.” Marcelo explains that the term implies that “there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. ” “I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.” Jasmine is very accepting of Marcelo, and finds ways to use his strengths.
Marcelo also will have to deal with Wendell, the conniving son of Arturo’s partner, Stephen Holmes. Through his daily interactions with people at the firm, it’s sink or swim for Marcelo as he learns to navigate the real world. Marcelo learns about competition, anger, abuse of power, betrayal, envy, desire and compassion. Marcelo is challenged to make very difficult decisions when he’s confronted with a situation of injustice in the law firm. Will Marcelo be able to stand up to his father and Stephen, expose the truth and do what is right?
Stork really took the time to create an engaging and educational experience for those wanting to journey into Marcelo’s world. An excellent book for teenagers and young adults. It received the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2009, the School Library Journal Best Book for 2009, and the New York Times Children’s Book of 2009.
For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks for their helpful “Transition Tool Kit.” Over one-half million children will make this transition, and they will want to have homes, jobs and friends. This is a societal issue.