Thursday, October 8, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World

by Francisco X. Stork
GE:  5.3
Interest Level:  Grades 9-12

Marcelo's father wants him to give up his summer job caring for the ponies at Paterson School. Marcelo's father wants him to spend the summer working in his law firm, where he can get a taste of the "real world." Marcelo's father wants him to spend his senior year at Oak Ridge High, where he will be challenged. Marcelo father makes a deal with him; if Marcelo can be successful at the law firm, Marcelo can choose which school he wants to attend in the fall. Though he's reluctant to give up his summer job, Marcelo sees no other choice. His concession will allow him to remain at Paterson for his senior year, and he knows he cannot survive at Oak Ridge High.

Marcelo (he's very clear that it's pronounced Mar-SEL-o, not Mar-CHEL-o) speaks of himself in the third person. He refers to his parents by their names, Arturo and Aurora. He hears music inside his head that no one else can hear (internal music, or IM, he calls it). He has an obsession with religion, and despite his Christian background, he meets regularly with the rabbit to discuss religious issues. He has regular appointments at the hospital, where his brain is scanned; the doctors never find much that is remarkable. Marcelo suffers from an unidentifiable disorder that falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.

When he is forced to leave the comfort of Paterson, Marcelo confronts challenges he never imagined: commuting to work on the train; binding documents in the mailroom; getting lost while delivering a document to a client for a signature. Marcelo befriends Jasmine, who runs the mailroom at the law office, and develops some degree of competence working there. He cannot work fast, but he can do the work that is asked of him, at least until Wendell, his father's partner's son, tries to blackmail him into setting him up with Jasmine. When the delicate balance of power between the sons of the owners is upset, Marcelo discovers a mystery and a coverup that force him to question his family loyalty and his understanding of right and wrong. When the mystery is unraveled, he realizes there is a future for him in the elusive "real world." 

Marcelo is a captivating character. Although the mystery of the injured girl Ixtel and the Vidromax windshield manufacturers carries the story forward, the greatest interest for me lay in Marcelo's development. The reader watches as he transforms from a student defined by his disability into a young man with "normal" hopes and dreams. The story dances around the theme of nature vs. nurture and the ways in which the environment can either limit or encourage personal development. If you like a good mystery, this is a good pick for you; if you like a good psychology novel, it's even better.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How Do You Define Normal? guest author A.J., Grade 8.

Define “Normal”
By: Julie Anne Peters

I read the book Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters. I chose this book because I liked the sound of the title, but I also read the back and what it was about. It seemed interesting, so I started to read it, and I really liked it.

Define “Normal” is about two girls from totally different worlds. One of them, Antonia, is a very nice girl. She gets to class on time, she gets all straight A’s, and participates in everything, including peer counseling. Antonia is assigned to help Jazz, the “punker,” as a mentor and counselor with Jazz’s problems. 

The other girl, Jasmine or “Jazz,” is very different. She skips classes to hang out with her friends instead; her friends are mostly drug dealers (so people think), and she doesn't care for girls like Antonia. Jazz has a deep dark secret that she doesn't want anybody to find out about except her parents. Jazz has a big talent for playing the piano; her dream is to go to Juilliard, a school for teens who are more than amazing at playing an instrument. But when her parents start getting too close to her as a family, Jazz quits piano, and her dream ever since she was born to go to Juilliard dies. Both girls have two things in common; they both go to counseling every week. 

Everyone in the school who just judges Jazz think she’s a drug dealing pot-smoker who wears black lipstick that you can only get off with turpentine. If they saw her hanging out with Antonia, all the kids would probably flip.  A girl like Jazz, the unpopular, the loser, the freak, can’t be seen around a girl like Antonia, a somewhat popular girl who is very pretty and tries to make friends with everyone except Jazz. 

Jazz and Antonia also have family issues. Antonia’s father hasn't come home in years and her mother needs psychiatric help. She’s never there for the kids; she’s always smoking or in her room sleeping and not eating. She is also very close to losing her house because she has not been paying the bills for a long time. 

Jazz, on the other hand, also has family issues. Her parents are home with her and feeding and treating her like a daughter, but Jazz has fights with her mom all the time usually about Jazz. She thinks her parents are trying to ruin her life because they don’t let her be who she really is. Jazz’s mom wishes for Jazz to be “normal” like all other kids out there. Jazz’s dad doesn't let anything past him. If he doesn't like the way Jazz dresses, then she better go change, or she gets grounded for two weeks, sometimes even a year. 

But at the end, Jazz and Antonia start understanding each other. They know everything about each other and have each other’s backs. Antonia gets her life back with her mom and the rest of her family. Jazz’s parents after going to her recital, seeing how she plays and what she wears, are speechless. They learn to respect her and appreciate her for who she is and what she wears.

I think this book is very good for teens and some adults. This book reminded me a lot of myself and what I went through at a particular time in my life. I started reading the first page but didn't think I would like it at all. It didn't seem like my type of book, but it was so good I finished it. By the end tears welled in my eyes, because the way the author had written the book, it touched my heart and made me feel so happy for the two girls. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to read a thrilling book about two different girls who can relate to each other so much that a punker and a prissy girl become best friends.