Marcelo in the Real World
is a young adult novel by Francisco X. Stork about a teenaged boy with Asperger's-like qualities who is pushed by his high-powered lawyer father to get some life experience working in the law office mailroom. While working in the mailroom, Marcelo experiences a number of strange new experiences, including navigating the unhealthy romantic advances of Wendell toward Marcelo's mailroom boss Jasmine and discovering the kind of work he wants to do after he graduates from high school.
The book begins with Marcelo's relationship with a female rabbi, whom he meets with regularly to discuss religion, philosophy, and the meaning of life. Marcelo loves talking about religion, generally preferring the company of the rabbi to the company of his friends, of which he has few. Marcelo has Asperger's, or a similar kind of neurodivergent disorder, and has some funny quirks – he is relatively antisocial, obsessed with faith and the idea of God, and frequently refers to himself in the third person. Marcelo's mother, Aurora, whom Marcelo also refers to by her first name, is a caring oncology nurse who supports Marcelo's interests. She helped Marcelo get into Paterson, a private school for children with special needs, where Marcelo works at the horse stables. Marcelo's father, Arturo, is a lawyer who is in denial about his son's neurodivergence. Frequently misunderstanding Marcelo, he pushes him into situations that make Marcelo uncomfortable.
The catalyst for the novel is Arturo pushing Marcelo into a summer job working in his law office mailroom. Marcelo had other ideas about working with the horses at the Paterson stables, but Arturo insists that Marcelo get some “real world experience.” At the office, Marcelo meets Jasmine, the mailroom clerk, who is pretty, blunt, and talented at her job. Jasmine befriends Marcelo, and the two soon become close. Marcelo also meets Wendell and his father, Stephen Holmes. Holmes, Arturo's law partner, mocks and belittles Marcelo for having autism. His son Wendell, similarly appalling, is the first person to explain the idea of sexual attraction to Marcelo. Wendell is obsessed with Jasmine, who finds him disgusting and tells Marcelo that Wendell has the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old.
A number of problems come up for Marcelo as he works in the law office. First, he is forced to navigate the relationship between Jasmine and Wendell. Marcelo respects and cares for Jasmine, but is accidentally tricked by Wendell into forcing Jasmine on a date with him. This causes some problems between Jasmine and Marcelo, though Jasmine understands that Wendell is the one truly responsible for the conflict. Marcelo also has to determine whether he is sexually attracted to Jasmine, something he had not considered before until he met Wendell and watched his behavior.
Another conflict in the novel is between Marcelo and his father – Arturo is working for Vidromek, a foreign automobile windshield company that might be responsible for catastrophic damage because of a faulty mechanism in the glass. Entranced by a horrific picture of Ixtel Jaetz, a woman whose face has been ruined by the exploding Vidromek windshield, Marcelo soon becomes involved in the work of Arturo's former associate Jerry Garcia, who helps victims sue large companies for damages.
Ultimately, the book is about coming of age, and Marcelo's experience in the complicated world beyond the walls of Paterson. Marcelo and Jasmine take a journey from New York to the home of Jasmine's parents in Vermont, where Marcelo decides he would like to work training therapy horses to help special needs kids. With the guidance of his mother, Jasmine, and Rabbi Heschel, Marcelo learns how to establish his own system of values and to operate in the world as he understands it, even if it contradicts the world his father wants for him.
Francisco X. Stork is the author of a handful of young adult and adult novels, most recently Marcelo in the Real World
and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
. Trained as a lawyer, Stork planned to write fiction while working legal jobs. It took him twenty years to publish his first novel for adults, The Way of Jaguar
. He is of Mexican ancestry, with a Dutch adopted father; when he was a child, his family moved to El Paso, Texas, where he was raised. Stork was educated at a Jesuit private school and a small Jesuit college, and then attended graduate school in literature at Harvard, and law school at Columbia University.