Marcelo in the Real World

by Francisco X. Stork
Grade 9-12


“The term cognitive disorder implies there is something wrong with the way I think or the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.” Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear, part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo’s differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer to join the “real world.”

There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file a picture of a girl with half a face that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight for what is right.

Discussion questions from SOMN

  • What is the difference between the “mental music” and the “real stuff”? How does Marcelo describe the mental music?
  • Compare the conversations Marcelo has with his mother and the ones he has with his father. How are they different? Based on their conversations, how would you compare the relationship Marcelo has with his mother to the relationship he has with his father? Do you think this changes throughout the story? Why or why not?
  • What are some of the rules of the real world that Marcelo finds difficult? Arturo tells Marcelo that the rules of the real world deal with the way to do things in order to be successful. Do you agree that to be successful you need to follow the rules of the real world? What are some of the rules of the real world that you believe are wrong? Do you agree with Arturo that the mailroom of the law firm is more “real” than Paterson?
  • If you were to ask Marcelo at the end of the summer, “How do we live with all the suffering?” what do you think he would say to you?
  • In the book, Marcelo’s diagnosis is never shared specifically. Why do you think the author might have chose to omit that detail?

Classroom activities from SOMN

  • Marcelo has many characteristics that are shared by some autistic individuals. Visit the website for the Autism Society of Kansas. Explore the sites, resources, and information independently or in groups and share one or two things you learned.
  • Write and record short 2-minute video book reviews for Marcelo in the Real World. Share your review with the class. Some examples of different styles can be found here.