Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World

How many YA novels have you read with a voice that comforts you? 

I just finished reading Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork, and frankly, I don't want to talk about it.  I don't want to dissect it or review it or analyze it. I just want to tell you to read it. 

But I'll try to say a tiny bit more than that, because some of you might need convincing.

In the opening chapter, Marcelo talks to his doctor about hearing "internal music" and like the doctor with his carefully worded questions, I struggled to understand what Marcelo meant, to imagine such music, because...well, because I liked Marcelo. And I wanted to believe in such a beautiful thing as music that can be "remembered" and dwelt in and that is always with us. But I didn't really get it.

Meanwhile, I fully enjoyed the story as it unfolded, not in doctor's visits or dissertations on music, but in Marcelo's matter-of-fact telling of his summer in the "real world" of his father's law firm. Nothing there happened exactly as I thought it would, and I often laughed.  Best of all, the characters were built layer by layer through Marcelo's considered observations of them and their behavior.  When he says that he doesn't know how to "read" people's reactions, and that he has to train himself to make the right responses, I knew it was his self-described Asperger's-like syndrome manifesting, but it never felt like a literary artifice. More like I was abiding with him, in the sense of "dwelling or sojourning."

Then, in almost the last chapter, Marcelo talks about the internal music again, and I suddenly realized that not only did I know what he was talking about, but I had experienced it! Not by reading this book; I don't mean that. I mean that I recognized the state of being he was describing even though our language for it was different.

Spirituality is an extraordinarily difficult thing to write about. But if a story can help you access what you already know...can help you remember...well, you should read it. 

Told you.


  1. Not to sound like a movie, but you had me with that first question. Of course I kept reading, but I stopped long enough to add Marcelo to my TBR list!

  2. Just to be clear: I wouldn't say the book itself is "comforting"---in that most coming-of-age stories aren't. Marcelo certainly has to suffer and change in the real world. When we grow up, we lose much. But the steadiness of his voice, the honesty and integrity of it, were comforting in such a way that I wanted to stay in the "real world" even when it was difficult.

  3. I had exactly the same experience with the music -- confusion in the beginning, and then "Yes!" later on. Such sparseness of voice and yet such emotion. Yum.

  4. Agreed, Jacqui. The sparseness is necessary for the emotion to work. And it does.

    I also believe that we aren't supposed to understand the music in the beginning; we're only supposed to want to. Thanks for confirming that for me!

  5. I love the cover, too.


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