Tag Archives: Francisco X. Stork

Irises by Francisco X. Stork

IrisesFirst things first: choose the page, not the headset. Carrington MacDuffie’s voice is just too old to narrate the inner lives of two teenage sisters – no lilting resonance, no youthful lightness. Might I suggest that the better options for aurally appreciating the extraordinary Francisco X. Stork would be Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death WarriorsThe ears don’t lie.

Kate is 18, determined and independent, with secret dreams of going to Stanford – instead of the expected, local University of Texas at El Paso – and becoming a doctor one day. Mary is 16, sensitive and thoughtful, an artist gifted beyond her years, with an other-world ability to recognize light in the subjects she paints. Their beloved mother never leaves her bed  … trapped in a vegetative state, kept alive only because of a feeding tube. One afternoon, their father lies down for a rest and never wakes again. Life suddenly shifts to fast-forward …

Mama needs her expensive medical care, the girls must finish school. Kate, as the elder, is faced with serious financial challenges. Aunt Julia arrives from California, but she isn’t exactly the helpful adult the sisters need, too busy criticizing their late father, avoiding her silent sister, and insisting to Kate that marrying her boyfriend Simon now is the sisters’ only secure choice for a future. Then the deacons of the church where Papa ministered for 20 years of his life announce that the family has two months to find a new home to make room for their father’s fiery young successor – who has inappropriate plans of his own.

While Papa was a loving provider, he was also a severe disciplinarian: “The only decision [the sisters] needed to make when he was alive was whether to obey willingly or unwillingly.” Without his restrictions, both girls grow in new ways: Mary finds a comforting new friendship; Kate reexamines many of hers. Both manage to find the strength to make impossible decisions with surprising wisdom – and always love.

Although Stork has a penchant for creating narratives populated by characters facing difficult challenges, he never resorts to easy feel-good answers or deus ex machina-solutions. His can’t-turn-the-page-fast-enough stories are ultimately reminders of the resilience of our youth, with a ringing endorsement that whatever they face, they can – and will – do so with tenacity and courage.

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Latino/a

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

Last Summer of the Death WarriorsWhen Pancho Sanchez arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, his 17-year-old self has already survived too much death, and yet he’s planning on more. The last of his family – his mentally challenged 20-year-old sister – was found dead in a motel room. While the police insist what happened was an accident, Pancho knows his sweet sister was murdered … and with no one left (their father died just three months ago, their mother years before when they were still young children), he has nothing more to lose.

And then he meets D.Q.

Daniel Quentin – “but everyone calls me D.Q.” – is on an impossible quest (Don Quixote, anyone?), mainly because he’s dying … of cancer. He’s been writing his “Death Warrior Manifesto” – “‘I’m not crazy about the name … because it has all sorts of negative implications. ‘Life Warrior’ is probably more accurate because the manifesto is about life, but ‘Death Warrior’ is more mysterious-sounding.’ And he inexplicably chooses Pancho (wasn’t Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza?) to be his fellow warrior. “‘The first rule is: No whining,’” he insists.

When an experimental treatment becomes available in Albuquerque, D.Q insists Pancho accompany him. Pancho readily agrees, as he’s managed to track down his sister’s killer to an Albuquerque address. Waiting there for D.Q. will be lovely Marisol, who works at the aptly named Casa Esperanza, a care facility for young cancer patients. Waiting, too, is D.Q.’s mother – surprise! he’s not an orphan, after all – who abandoned her son once before but is desperate to redeem herself by saving him this time.

As memorable as this novel is, you can’t believe how much heavier its imprint becomes on your heart, long after you finish it. If you choose to stick the story in your ears, D.Q. and Pancho’s voices won’t stop ringing: narrator Ryan Gesell is both sensitive and controlled, even as the punches (literally) fly.

Author extraordinaire Francisco X. Stork (oh, Marcelo in the Real World, be still my heart!) deals with Big Themes – life, death, love! – with patience and even humor, but he also seamlessly weaves in matters of race, ethnicity, haves vs. have-nots, parenthood, mental illness, and more. Before you close the book, turn to the title once more: that word “Last” keeps resonating, not only for what you’ve just read, but for what gets left unsaid.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Latino/a

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo marks quite a memorable moment in our family’s dynamics: For the first time ever, our daughter actually shut us out with her headphones (I realize it’s coming relatively late in modern teenage life), demanding that she be able to finish this book right now (it was loaded on her iPod while we were traveling). She’s wasn’t even close to the last chapter … but she was sure rushing to get there!

With endorsement like that, how could you not read this book? It really, truly is that good … forget the rest of this post, just go order Marcelo either from your library or favorite bookseller right now … I just ordered author Francisco X. Stork‘s other titles, too. Our daughter’s going to have to fight me for first reading rights!

If you’re still looking for a few more details, here goes: Marcelo Sandoval is 17. He’s somewhere in the highly functioning Aspberger’s end of the autism spectrum. He’s Mexican American, he hears internal music, he usually talks in the third person, he prays the rosary and is obsessed with religion, his closest friend is a Jewish rabbi, and he escapes to a backyard tree house where he often spends the night. His father is a high-power lawyer in Boston. His mother is a compassionate nurse who works with ill children. His straight-talking older sister is away at Yale.

During the summer before his high school senior year, Marcelo’s father abruptly makes Marcelo a deal. Arturo wants Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm so that he can experience ‘the real world’; if Marcelo lasts the summer, he will be able to choose for himself whether or not he returns to his special-education private school or enter the local public high school. Marcelo is wary, but with his (amazing) mother’s support, he finally agrees. And his so-called real-world adventures begin.

Marcelo meets gorgeous Jasmine, just a couple years older, who efficiently runs the firm’s mailroom, who lets him know first thing that she’s not particularly pleased about training him. She hears music of her own, music that she makes up … and she turns out to be quite a lovely, guiding soul. The one other young person Marcelo is expected to assist that summer is Wendell, the overprivileged, sleazy Harvard son of Arturo’s silver-spooned law partner.

When Marcelo discovers a disturbing photograph meant to be trash, he is determined to piece together the story of the girl in the picture … and detail by detail, his search leads him to challenging, difficult, conflicting lessons about love, loyalty, and the sometimes surprisingly grey areas of truth.

Stork is stupendously spot-on in creating Marcelo and his real world. From Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies to perfect Bible quotes to late night poker games that put food on the table, Stork has the uncanny ability to insert the perfect minutia to make you smile, gasp, yell, smirk, laugh, cry … come join in.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Latino/a, Nonethnic-specific