Marcelo Sandoval experiences things differently than most. Difficulty understanding body language and social conventions, and a deep commitment to his “special interest” — God and religion, generally speaking — make “Asperger’s” the easiest answer to people’s questions about his behaviour, though Marcelo notes that this is not quite accurate. Still, going to Patterson, a special school that helps students with all sorts of mental and physical challenges to learn strategies for managing those challenges, has been beneficial for him, teaching him to relate more easily with others and offering him opportunities to help other students. He is comfortable at Patterson.
The summer before his last year of high school, his father gives him a choice: demonstrate that he can successfully follow the rules of the “real world,” working at his father’s law firm through the summer, and choose for himself where he will finish high school, or take his preferred job working with the therapy ponies at Patterson, and prove himself instead at public school in the fall. Marcelo chooses the former, and discovers both the satisfaction to be found in taking on challenges, and the disillusionment that is part of navigating the “real world” of adult responsibility and compromise.
Marcelo is a lovely, thought-provoking story that encourages readers to contemplate the definition of “self,” the challenge of balancing competing loyalties, and the sacrifices involved in taking an adult place in the world. It does include some mature language and subject matter, and while neither is gratuitous, it is likely that older teens will be better prepared to take these in stride. This novel is likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the unique perspective found in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and to those who enjoyed the philosophical/religious musings of Life of Pi.