I Dropped Everything And Read yesterday (after work, anyway), and zipped through Marcelo in the Real World.
And I think the hype is justified. It was a lovely book, and a smart one. Marcelo is a wonderfully engaging character, intriguing and peculiar and very charming.
I don't know anything, really, about autism-spectrum "disorders" (which, as Marcelo makes clear, is not quite the right word to use), so I cannot speak to the verisimilitude of Marcelo's particular situation. But his difference comes through clearly through his narration, and through his use of third person in conversation (a quirk I found absolutely delightful. it's such a small, simple way to mark difference, and it casts every conversation in a slightly different way).
Francisco Stork evidently drew on his own experiences to create Marcelo, so I take his (Stork's) word for it that there is some kind of authenticity. Then again, perhaps creating an authentically autistic character doesn't matter; since autism seems to come in an infinite variety of forms, how could we ever know authenticity? And it doesn't matter - almost - what diagnosis Marcelo has, because that isn't the point of the book. The point of the book is everything else - his relationship with his father, his relationship with Jasmine, with God, with ponies, with Ixtel.
I also really like that Stork made Marcelo an attractive person, physically. Maybe my mind was set wrong as I read, but it seemed to me that, between the lines, we're made to understand that Marcelo is HOT. And I think, generally, people as a group don't tend to think of anyone with any kind of mental disorder/disability/difference as physically attractive, as sexy or hot or appealing. But why shouldn't they be?
I cannot say that Marcelo in the Real World was a life-changing book for me. But, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, this one definitely shifted my perspective, again, on autism/autism spectrum. I think the justice angle of the book, the social justice and the sense of feminism that underlies a lot of the book, is hugely important, and for those reasons, I think I'll add Marcelo to my (so far very small) list of books about empathy and philanthropy. Altruism, maybe - I'm not sure what the word is. But I have a small collection of characters and books who are good, who DO good, for no other reason that because it is right to do good. The Brothers Cheeryble from Nicholas Nickleby were the first on my list.
I'm glad Marcelo has gotten so much good press lately; it deserves it (and so does its wonderful editrix, Cheryl Klein).