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Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork (Read by Lincoln Hoppe)

Marcelo Sandoval, a 17-year-old boy with a condition similar to Asperger syndrome, is looking forward to summer vacation when he can start his summer job caring for the horses at the special school he attends. His plans change when his father, a prominent attorney, insists that Marcelo needs to see what life is like in the "real world" and bribes him to accept a job at his Boston law firm for the summer. The payoff will be that Marcelo can return to his special school in the fall if he works at the law firm for the summer. If he refuses, he will be forced to go to public school in the fall.

His boss at the law firm is a young girl, Jasmine, who teaches him how to recognize and handle emotions and how to deal with people. In the course of the summer, Marcelo learns about love, jealousy, anger, desire, compassion and a range of emotions he never knew existed. While he'd always been comfortable with animals, he now learns how to have feelings for and be friends with the people he meets.

Marcelo hears internal music, or what he calls "IM" when he's not interacting with others. He spends a great deal of his time in solitary activities, even to the point of choosing to live in a tree house rather than in his comfortable home. He's also deeply religious, calling his incessant praying "remembering" because it reminds him of his devout grandmother.

Told in the first person, this novel is uncanny in its ability to allow the listener to get into the head of the young man. Because the use of pronouns is not natural to him, he uses "Marcelo" instead of "I" when talking to others, unless he consciously chooses the correct word. This simulates a speech and perception disorder for the listener, making it easy to identify with Marcelo's. The narrator delivers Marcelo's lines in a very flat and deliberate manor, while animating the other characters appropriately. This contrast in reading is very effective in distinguishing the differences between Marcelo's and the "real world".

This is a very tender and heartwarming story with thought-provoking situations and characters. Marcelo battles evil in the form of trying to right the injustice he feels has been done by his father's firm. Although desperate for acceptance and friendship, he learns to stand up to those who would take advantage of him because of his innocence.

It's a summer of many lessons -- for Marcelo, his family, co-workers and ultimately, the listeners fortunate enough to find this beautiful audio book. Although suggested for young adult audiences, this book would appeal to readers of all ages who've ever wondered about living in an autism-like world.

Ruth Mormon

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