Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Scholastic, Inc., 2009     ISBN: 0545054745

Marcelo, for want of a better description, has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-intelligence autism in which understanding the social world is a struggle, and which may include repetitive or obsessive behaviors. Marcelo has done very well in a special school, and is looking forward to his summer job caring for the ponies the school uses with its students. This summer job will lead him to the opportunity to help train the ponies starting in his senior year in the fall.

However, his father has other plans for him and essentially blackmails Marcelo into working at his law firm for the summer in order to gain “real world” skills. If he does so successfully, as judged by his father, he can return to his special school. If not, he must attend public school like his father wants him to do.

Marcelo finds the “real world’ to be more challenging and troubling than he expected. Not only would he have to learn to commute to the city and find his way from the train station to the office while contending with an overabudance of sound and color; he must learn new job skills, which are in and of themselves not so difficult, but he must negotiate the office politics necessary to do his job well. Additionally, he has to deal with the negative reactions many of the staff have toward him – which are based on his father’s description of him as “cognitively impaired.”

The ‘real world’ turns uglier when the son of his father’s partner, who is also working at the firm for the summer dumps his work on Marcelo, so he can go yachting, and Marcelo learns that the main source of income for his father’s firm is a company which produces defective windshields that have shattered and seriously injured a significant number of people. He begins to think the company, and his father’s law firm know about the defective manufacturing.

Marcelo is ultimately faced with moral decisions that will have long-term ramifications for him, the law firm, his father’s relationship with the family, and his education.

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