Marcelo in the Real World

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Marcelo in the Real World Book Poster Image
Gorgeously moving story about teen with autism.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Contains thought-provoking discussions of many topics, including religion, law, disability, relationships, and human nature.

Positive Messages

Disparaging references to a darker-skinned Hispanic being a "minority hire," but the overall message of the book is that clear thinking, honesty, and heart are far preferable to sophisticated knowledge of the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marcelo is a model of thoughtful, sincere determination to do what is right even at great personal expense and harm to those he loves.


A joke about testicles, another about breasts, a comment about a woman wanting to "jump your bones," another about men sowing their seed, references to intercourse, erection and "hard-on," a clinical description of sex involving penis and vagina, a list of ways that sex can be used for evil purposes, including rape and pedophilia, a teen intends to pressure a young woman to have sex with him, references to "whoring," a graphic discussion of animal mating, a discussion of sexual desire, a married man kisses a younger employee and for part of the book it is assumed they had sex, a 14-year-old talks about selling herself.


A fair amount of swearing, including "asshole," "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," "bastard," "bulls--t," "dick," "motherf--ker."


Car, soda, beer, canned meat brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen drinks martinis, adults smoke and drink beer and hard liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are many sexual references here, somewhat graphic, but it is all talk and discussion -- there is no actual sexual activity depicted. There is also a fair amount of swearing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAaliayah L. March 4, 2018

its ok

I would not recommend this book to a kid who is 11 or below bc it has some things that wouldnt be suitable. Other than all that other stuff this book is ok I gu... Continue reading
Parent of a 10 and 11-year-old Written byA P. January 28, 2018

Moving story for everyone--particularly for insights into boys, autistic teens

I read this book myself to see if my son is ready for it -- he's not (age 11) but I can't wait until he's in high school and can enjoy this power... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMisaxxii January 30, 2021

Good Book For Students Age 13+

This book really tells you how it feels like to be someone with Aspergers. You never really know how someone feels until you walk in their shoes. A 17-year-old... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old February 2, 2012

I highly recommend it

This book really explains about how autistic people may be like. It also can open you up to the "real world." It's a really good book with an int... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the summer before his senior year, Marcelo, a high-functioning autistic who has been sheltered in a special school, is forced by his hard-driving lawyer father to take a summer job in his law firm's mail room so that he can learn to function in the "real world." But Marcelo learns more about the real world than his father intended, including finding out just what kind of lawyer, and person, his father really is.

Is it any good?

This is a beautifully written, carefully constructed, thought-provoking and moving story, with a kind of loving wisdom all too rare in fiction these days. This book has frequently been compared with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, though the similarities are superficial: a high-functioning autistic teen narrator and a mystery. Here the mystery isn't very mysterious -- the reader, and very soon after, Marcelo, have a pretty good idea what happened. The question is what Marcelo will do about it. It is watching Marcelo, with his unusual way of thinking and perceiving, feel his way to a decision and the consequences it will entail that provides the story. And it is seeing Marcelo grow in offbeat understanding of a kind seldom imparted to those with an ordinary view of the world that provides the heart.

In the course of this summer Marcelo faces, thinks about, and discusses with other characters many issues that will fascinate readers as well, from relationships and sex to ethics, human nature, and some unusually deep conversations about religion. The author is at some pains to make clear that Marcelo's condition is not precisely autism or Asperger's Syndrome, but something related, and really it is more of a literary tool to allow the author to look at the ordinary world through extraordinary eyes. This book will have readers taking a look at their own realities with perhaps a different point of view, and wondering if some aspects of Marcelo's so-called disability might actually be -- enviable.

From the Book:
"It is an experience you haven't had, really. At Paterson you are in a protected environment. The kids who go there are not ... normal. Most of them will be the way they are all their lives. You, on the other hand, have the ability to grow and adapt. Even your Dr. Malone thinks this is the case. He's said so since the very first time we saw him. All these years, it wasn't really necessary for you to go to Paterson. You don't really belong there. I know you realize this yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You just move at a different speed than other kids your age. But in order for you to grow and not get stuck, you need to be in a normal environment. It is time. Here is what I propose: If you work at the law firm this summer, then at the end of the summer, <i>you</i> decide whether you want to spend your senior year at Paterson or at Oak Ridge High."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Marcelo's intriguing and appealingly-portrayed condition. Is it realistic? Is it true to the lives of high-functioning autistics? How can we know?

  • Is a condition like this in fact a disability? Or does Marcelo have any advantages over those who are called normal?

  • Is the way Marcelo sees people and the world better than the way you do? Are there any ways in which you would like to be like him? Can he be called a role model?

Book details

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