It’s the summer before 17-year-old Marcelo Sandoval’s senior year. He’s on the autism spectrum; he likes to tell people his “condition” is closest to Asperger Syndrome, but even that doesn’t describe it fully. It takes a while for him to process interactions with other people. He hears something akin to music in his head, something he hears but can’t quite describe to other people. His fixation is religion, though he also loves music and working with the ponies at Paterson, a school for disabled children. Life is good, or at least as good as Marcelo wants it.
Then his father, who has never really accepted there is anything “wrong” with Marcelo, decides that Marcelo has been disadvantaged by living in a bubble world at Paterson, and that what he needs is a good dose of the real world. He arranges for Marcelo to work in the mail room at his law firm, something Marcelo doesn’t really want to do. And yet, because his father is insistent, it’s what he ends up doing. And, for good or ill — or maybe a little bit of both — he ends up experiencing a little bit of the real world: lust, jealousy, passion, charity, self-interest. It’s all there, waiting for Marcelo to figure out how to process it.
Written from Marcelo’s point of view, and in Marcelo’s voice, the book invites readers into his world, a place I found amazing. Marcelo is comfortable with who he is, and he tries so hard to understand the world around him. His explorations of religion are fascinating, as are — as he gets deeper into the real world — his questions about beauty, about sex and about human interactions. (Yes, it’s frank, and there is some language, but nothing ever feels gratuitous.) There’s a bit of a legal mystery and romance to add to the inner dialogue that Marcelo has. It’s a deep book, one full of difficult questions and tough answers. And yet, as I finished it, I was surprised at the love and the hope that radiated from it, which brought tears to my eyes.
In short: absolutely wonderful.
Rated: High, for more than six instances of the f-word and other mild language.