“What’s the mental music like?” Dr. Malone asks when I’m out of the tunnel.First- (but prone to dialog in third- instead of in first- or second-) person narrator Marcelo Sandoval has an autism-like condition no doctor’s been able to diagnose: he hears music no one else can. His father however, doesn’t believe in Marcelo’s differences. So in the summer before Marcelo’s senior year, instead of working at his special-need school Paterson’s stable with the ponies he’s learned to take care of, he’ll be working in the mailroom of his father’s law firm to gain experience in the “real world” (his father’s favorite expression).
I prefer the word “internal” to the word “mental” when referring to the music. The fact that the IM, as I call it for short, is inside my mind does not necessarily mean that it produced by my mind.
Well, Marcelo’s not happy about it. The people at Sandoval & Holmes all seem to think he’s retarded or has a “cognitive disorder” (a term used even by his “There’s nothing wrong with you!” father).
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.And it’s true. His mind is fascinating. He takes the brunt of human behavior and tries to decipher it so as to make inferences about it. Whereas everyone else relies on interpretation to get through the day, he likes literal. There’s less room for error with literal. And this reads so well:
“You need to speak clearly. I don’t know what the phrase ‘jump your bones’ means. It would be very helpful if you were literal.”
“If you used words in accordance with their primary meaning, not their metaphorical meaning.”
But enough with the quoting for now.
This book is almost a study on humans through the mind of a guy who is the pinnacle of “socially awkward“. Marcelo’s precise, but for obvious reasons clueless, lacking completely in street smarts. His social inexperience is a great setup for conflict: when someone takes advantage of him, he ignores his instincts and hesitates to react until he’s got a comprehensive breakdown of the person’s motives, which makes him an easy target. His summer is a huge wake-up call to how theory doesn’t always apply in practice, and it forces him to rearrange his careful, sheltered-life truths and think bigger, larger, more abstract.
The reason I loved this book--besides the voice, which is truly spectacular--is threefold. First there’s the conflict that arises when Marcelo finds a picture of a disfigured girl while going through the files of his father’s biggest client. It’s his biggest test--how can he possibly accept that the man who’s always cared for him and been a good father, represents someone with questionable business practices?
The other two reasons are two characters:
This double-faced leech, Wendell Holmes (the other partner's son), who hints at having done some creepy shit in the past and who is a bit of a psychopath. There’s no more compelling way of exploring a person like this than through the eyes of a borderline-autistic character who’s just getting his social training wheels off.
And then there’s girl, Jasmine, who’s his boss in the mailroom. Their relationship is ambiguous from the start, and I love ambiguity. Jasmine wakes many feelings in him, and while he constantly questions if he has sexual feelings for her, he can never answer it because he has never felt that way about anyone. A tinge of uncertain romance in a book never hurt anybody.
Anyway: Marcelo’s ultimate breakthrough is learning how to speak up and have trust in himself--a beautiful and hopeful message written in a most accomplished way. This is an instant 2009 favorite. A.
Now, for one more favorite quote:
“Have they talked to you about sex at Paterson?”Fin.
“Sexual intercourse is how humans procreate. The erect penis of the man goes into the vagina of the woman. I am not a child.” [He's irritated about always being questioned about his knowledge.]
Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) | 320 pages | March 1st, 2009 | Author Website | GoodReads