Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Personal

We don't get too personal here at the FNC.

Sure, we talk about our house renovations, and our bad days, and our wedding plans, and our embarrassing moments, and our joys and struggles in writing and revising, but we keep it relatively detached from the nitty-gritty of our personal lives, and we keep it focused on the writing.

And we should--that's what we're all here to talk about, after all.

But this can be tricky, because, at least for me, the personal life and the writing life are really quite entwined. I struggle to separate them, and sometimes a topic comes along that demands a very personal touch.

So it is with today's topic: Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork. I read this book about 11 months ago, and I loved it. I couldn't put it down. The ending left me wonderfully satisfied, but wanting for more.

Throughout the book, I laughed aloud, and I wept. Oh, how I wept. I wouldn't call it sad, though, but poignant, and so very real.

How is this post, which at this point reads as a book review, something so personal? Here's how:

Marcelo, the protagonist, is a late-teenage boy who has Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Six months before I read this book, a young member of my family (he was 3 1/2 at the time) was diagnosed with mild-to-moderate autism.

While none of us were expecting it, the diagnosis didn't come as a big surprise, either. We had known for a while that something was up, and a loud "Oh!..." was uttered by the whole family as we began to put together the pieces of his behaviors and symptoms. There were tears, for sure, but there was also a collective sigh of relief as we learned the services that would become available to him in response to his diagnosis. Learning to live with and in spite of autism will be a life-long journey for him, but we can see the progress he has made already, and we are thankful for that.

When I first picked up Marcelo, I didn't know the main character had Asperger's Syndrome. I had heard good things about the book, but no specifics. When the Asperger's element became apparent within the first chapter, I put the book down. I didn't want to read an "autism book."

The book sat on my nightstand for a few days before the good things I'd heard about the it, and the fact that Cheryl Klein edited it, won out. (I've enjoyed everything that Cheryl Klein has brought to the world, so I decided I should trust her.)

The story, a coming-of-age of sorts, chronicles the summer that Marcelo works as a clerk in his father's Boston law firm. It is not an "autism book" at all. It's a story about a teenage boy and the adventures and struggles he has as he navigates a tense father-son relationship, the ugliness of the cut-throat corporate environment, first love, and real human suffering. Marcelo is startlingly realistic, and his life and character, though certainly impacted by Asperger's Syndrome, is so much more than that. Marcelo is the character; the syndrome is simply part of the background.

As a writer, I am awed by Stork's ability to create such a realistic character and to grapple with the weighty questions of God and human suffering without cliches or trite answers or heavyhandedness.

As a reader, I blush as Marcelo wades into his first romance, with all its awkwardness and tenderness. What fun!

As family to a young boy with an autism diagnosis, I appreciate a book about a character rather than a syndrome. He is a person, not a diagnosis. This is so important.

Mr. Stork, thank you for Marcelo in the Real World.

Dear reader, if you haven't read it yet, I recommend that you do.


I hope you laugh and cry as much as I did.


  1. This will definitely go in my reading list! Thanks for your thoughts and letting me know about this book.

  2. I've been meaning to read this book. Over the years, I've had several autistic/asperger students, all special. One boy in particular was such a beautiful child -- so earnest in every thing and every word he said. I'd run into him in the store sometimes, and his face would light up. There was no hiding of emotions, just a lot of honesty there.

    I am so glad there are books out there that honor the kids with differences. They need to see themselves represented in books. Children need to see their classmates and siblings represented in literature.

  3. I laughed out loud at several points in this novel and definitely grew attached to the main characters. I felt like I knew them. Thanks for highlighting one of my favorite reads from 2010.

  4. and such gorgeous cover art at that!

  5. I read this book because Cheryl Klein is the editor. I loved it. Great review.

  6. Amy--Yeah! Add it to the top of the list, then let me know your reactions to it.

    Caroline--I agree. Children with differences need to be represented and honored in literature, with an emphasis on the child not the difference. Thank you for the work you do in your classroom to support and teach all our children.

    Mrs. DeRaps--I was laughing along with you. What a great book.

    Liz--Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't mention the art in my comments, but it deserves praise as well. Gorgeous.

    Natalie--I'm glad you enjoyed the review. We put a lot of stock in Ms. Klein's opinion, don't we. I wonder if she's aware of the scope of her influence. Oh, to one day have my own manuscript picked up by her...

  7. That is weird. I went to an SCBWI Tokyo event last night, and someone recommended this! It must be a sign.


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