Two of my favorite books from this past year are narrated by young men with autism: Anything But Typical by Nora Leigh Baskin and this one, for an older audience, about Marcelo Sandoval who describes his condition thus:
“The primary characteristics of AS, which is what Asperger’s syndrome is is called for short, occur in the areas of communication and social interaction, and usually there is some kind of pervasive interest. The AS person is different than most people in these areas.”
What this interest means for Marcelo in practical terms is that he meets frequently with a Jewish rabbi to discuss God and religion. He also goes to mass regularly and prays the rosary. And he has memorized large chunks of Scripture, from the Old and New Testaments and from the sacred books and prayers of other religions.
Although the religion thing is a fascinating sub-theme (if you can have a subplot, why not a subtheme?), the book is mostly about coping in the real world while remaining true to oneself and about father/son relationships. Marcelo’s father, Arturo, is a high-powered lawyer who denies that there’s anything really different about or wrong with Marcelo and who wants his son to eventually attend college and become a lawyer like him. As far as intelligence goes, Marcelo is certainly capable of following in his father’s footsteps. However, Marcelo is different. He thinks differently from most people, and his social skills and ability to understand complicated social interactions are limited. When Arturo insists that Marcelo spend his summer working in the mailroom at Arturo’s law firm, everyone involved learns something about the “real world.”
I like these books about autistic children and young adults because they take some of our basic assumptions about the world and how it works and shake them upside down and reorganize them into new ways of thinking about people and about our expectations of them. Some of us just got through watching most of the first three seasons of the TV show Bones, and I see Temperance Brennan and her assistant Zach doing much the same thing. Both of them are probably “on the spectrum,” especially Zach, and both characters are quite intelligent, literal-minded, and find it difficult to pick up on jokes and figures of speech and double meanings. They see the world in a different way from the rest of us, and what books like Marcelo in the Real World and Anything But Typical show is that although the autistic person’s way of seeing the world may be limiting in some ways, it may also free the autistic person to see things that the rest of us miss.
I highly recommend Marcelo in the Real World for mature readers. As do the characters in the Bones TV series, the narrator of Marcelo speaks quite frankly about sex and sexual matters in an innocent, almost childlike, way. I didn’t find anything in the book offensive, but some people might.
Other blog reviews of Marcelo in the Real World:
Becky’s Book Reviews: “Meet Marcelo Sandoval. Read his story. Witness first-hand the transition from dream world to real world.”
Confessions of a Bibliovore: “But the real world is full of traps and pitfalls even for the people who spend all their time in it. Before the summer is out, Marcelo will discover that the good and evil exist together in ways that all his religious studying has never prepared him for, and that the only way to find the right path is by discovering where his own faltering steps lead him.”
Reviewer X: “This book is almost a study on humans through the mind of a guy who is the pinnacle of “socially awkward“. Marcelo’s precise, but for obvious reasons clueless, lacking completely in street smarts.”
Other books featuring children and young adults “on the autism spectrum”:
London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Semicolon review here.
Rules by Cynthia Lord. Semicolon review here.
Anything But Typical by Nora Leigh Baskin. Semicolon review here.
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko. Semicolon review here.
Emma Jean Lazurus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. Semicolon review by Brown Bear Daughter here.
The Very Ordered Existence of Marilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley.:
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Semicolon review here.
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon. Semicolon review here.
Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach.
A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards by Ann Bauer.