The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 19, 2010

Book review: Titles for young readers compelling enough for adults

“Red Glass”

By Laura Resau

(For 4th-8th grade)

Sixteen-year-old Sophia and her family are summoned to the hospital one night, where a 6-year-old Mexican boy, who they later discover is named Pablo, is recovering from dehydration. The group that Pablo was crossing the border with, including his parents, were all found dead, but the border patrol found Sophie’s stepfather’s business card in the dead man’s pocket.

Juan does not recognize the boy, but since he has no family in the USA, he comes to live Sophie, her parents, and her eccentric, great-aunt Dika — who is a refugee from the war in Bosnia. Over the course of the next year, Pablo becomes part of the family and emerges from his shell enough to help Sophie’s family make contact with his grandmother in Mexico.

In a twist of fate, Dika’s new boyfriend and his son, Angel, are planning to travel through Mexico to their native Guatemala during the summer. Dika, Sophie and Pablo ride along so that Pablo can see his family and eventually make a decision about whether he wants to stay in Mexico or return to the USA.

Sophie always considered herself an amoeba — a single-celled organism that aimlessly floats through life — and she is afraid of everything, from becoming an orphan to getting food poisoning. But it is on this summer adventure that she will have to conquer bigger fears in an effort to help her friends.

This memorable novel seamlessly blends cultures to create one breathtaking narrative. Sophie and the rest of the characters have to cross numerous borders — mentally, socially, as well as physically — and readers of all ages will fall in love with this captivating story.

“Marcelo in the Real World”

By Francisco X. Stork

(Young adult)

Marcelo Sandoval, a high functioning, 17-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, is looking forward to a summer of caring for therapeutic-riding ponies at Paterson, the special school that he has attend his entire life.

But then his father, Arturo, blindsides him with a proposition: Agree to work in the “real world” (a.k.a. the mailroom of Arturo’s law firm) for the summer and Marcelo can return to Patterson for his senior year of high school, or decline and go to the mainstream high school of Arturo’s choice.

Marcelo accepts the proposal and at the law firm Marcelo meets Jasmine, his mailroom supervisor, and Wendell, the son of his father’s business partner. It is with their help that Marcelo learns important life lessons about friendship, jealously, competition, trust and anger.

However, it is through the discovery of a mysterious girl’s photograph that he learns of pain and makes a decision that will alter his life forever.

Stork does a fine job developing Marcelo into a well-rounded, believable character. While Marcelo’s condition is a chief element of the story, Stork does an amazing job exploring it without neglecting the rest of the story. His first person narrative is effective for allowing readers the opportunity to understand what is happening in Marcelo’s head, while allowing for the enjoyment of the rest of the story.

This is an engaging, satisfying novel that should not be missed by teens and adults alike.

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at Joplin Public Library.