News & Reviews
The Memory of Light (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic January 2016)
2017 Tomás Rivera Book Award – Given to authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience.
Trailer of The Memory of Light
If clinical depression is not the same as sadness, then what is it? Francisco X. Stork examines this question with the same grace, eloquence and respect found in all of his writing for young adults, particularly in his previous, much-acclaimed novel “Marcelo in the Real World.” In “The Memory of Light”, he pulls back the curtain on a disease that often feels shameful, as if sufferers themselves are to blame, and gives readers space to consider nonjudgmentally, almost philosophically, both the pain and the wisdom depression can bring. Hospitalized after a suicide attempt, Vicky Cruz has one thing in common with the three other teens in her therapy group. They are, as Vicky puts it, “failures at the thing called living.” Vicky has long defined herself as the opposite of her materially successful family, who set and reach goals with apparent ease. Whereas her father and sister seem to have weathered their grief over Vicky’s mother’s death and moved on, she has stalled. They ask her why she wanted to kill herself; yet, for her, “want” is barely a concept. “I don’t want anything. I simply don’t want.” Under the patient guidance of her doctor, and in conversation with her therapy mates, who gradually become solid friends, Vicky learns that she has depression, but that it doesn’t have to consume her. She starts to feel valued and needed for who she is rather than striving unsuccessfully to fit her father’s blueprint for who she is supposed to be. Emily Dickinson’s image of “boots of lead creaking across her soul” resonates, and she wonders if she, too, “could learn to work with words and images and rhythms so other can see and feel what they could not see or feel or understand before” – in short, what Stork himself does so well.
– Christine Heppermann
(Starred) Kirkus Reviews, November 2015
After a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky Cruz wakes up in a hospital’s mental ward, where she must find a path to recovery—and maybe rescue some others. Vicky meets Mona, Gabriel, and E.M.—a clan very different from Vicky primarily because of their economic limitations—at Lakeview Hospital. There, with the guidance of their group-therapy leader, Dr. Desai, they daily delve into deep-seated issues that include anger management, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and schizophrenia. Beyond the hospital walls, Vicky’s school friends amount to zero, and her future plans are difficult to conjure. Vicky has a flawed family: Becca, her Harvard-student sister, has grown distant; Miguel, her temperamental first-generation father, married Barbara only six months after Vicky’s mother died of cancer; and collectively the two are sending Vicky’s longtime nanny, Juanita, back to Mexico. A quick first-person narration guides readers through the complexity of Vicky’s thoughts and, more importantly, revelations. From her darkest moments to welcome comedic respites to Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Stork remains loyal to his characters, their moments of weakness, and their pragmatic views, and he does not shy away from such topics as domestic violence, social-class struggles, theology, and philosophy. Following Schneider Award-winning Marcelo in the Real World (2009), Stork further marks himself as a major voice in teen literature by delivering one of his richest and most emotionally charged novels yet.
(Starred) Booklist, November 2015
When high-school sophomore Vicky Cruz wakes in the hospital psychiatric ward after a failed suicide attempt, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she tries again. She agrees to stay for two weeks, not because she thinks it will change anything, but because she can’t bear pretending anymore. Through Vicky’s interactions with others in group therapy—chatty, energetic Mona; bold, angry E.M.; and preternaturally wise Gabriel—she finds acceptance and understanding, while her sessions with kindly Dr. Desai help re-frame her life from the perspective of someone with an illness that needs treatment, not someone who “isn’t trying hard enough.” The final third of the novel is crowded with less-credible action sequences, including a near drowning and a violent confrontation with an abuser, but overall Vicky’s story has undeniable emotional strength and an encouraging, compassionate message. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World, 2009) writes his characters with authenticity and respect, from their inner lives to their economic and cultural backgrounds (Vicky is Mexican American); as Vicky gradually recovers and begins to imagine her future, other characters work out their damaging assumptions as well. Though occasionally message-heavy, this important story of a teenager learning to live with clinical depression is informative and highly rewarding.
— Krista Hutley
(Starred) Publisher’s Weekly, November 2015
Vicky Cruz, 16, “put[s] on strong every morning,” trying to please her demanding father, a emotionally stunted man who married his assistant shortly after the death of his wife, six years earlier. But when Vicky’s father summarily fires her beloved, arthritic nanny, paying for her to return to Mexico, Vicky surrenders to the “soul pain” she has felt for years and swallows a bottle of her stepmother’s sleeping pills. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World) writes sensitively about Vicky’s journey from near death to shaky recovery, discussing his own experience with depression in an afterword. Awakening in a public hospital’s psych ward, Vicky attends group therapy with patients who have a catalogue of disorders, and learns from them to value her strengths. Various studies have estimated that perhaps as many as one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health problem; it’s a subject that needs the discussion Stork’s potent novel can readily provide. Vicky isn’t healed, but she finds a reason to keep living, and that constitutes progress worth celebrating.
(Starred) School Library Journal, January 2015
After attempting to commit suicide in her bedroom, Vicky Cruz wakes up in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. Exhausted and nearly catatonic, Vicky goes through the motions asked of her by the quiet but firm Dr. Desai while intending to stay only the mandatory time before going home to try again. After attending group therapy with the other three young people on the ward—her energetic roommate Mona, intimidating E.M., and angelic Gabriel, however, Vicky accepts Dr. Desai’s help in convincing her domineering father to let her stay. As Vicky begins intensive treatment, things start to look up, but the looming question of whether she and her friends can survive in the outside world remains. Stork’s latest starts slow, with a cold, dry tone that mirrors Vicky’s own emotional depletion. As the new environment and people begin to reach Vicky, however, the prose follows suit, growing smoothly into a warm and powerful tone. Unlike many novels about teens and suicide, this work focuses entirely on recovery. Vicky is dealing with a deep depression born from her mother’s death and learns not only to name her illness but to cope with the effects and stand up for her needs. Stork’s depiction of depression deftly avoids the traps of preaching or romanticizing and instead is accurate, heartbreaking, and hopeful. A beautiful read that adds essential depth to the discussion of teens and mental illness.
–Amy Diegelman, Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA
“The Memory of Light is filled with hard truths and beautiful revelations. It’s a beacon of hope for those in the dark of depression. This book just might save your life.”
-Stephanie Perkins, New York Times bestselling author of Isla and the Happily Ever After.
“The Memory of Light takes you to that cold strange place that is depression. Vicky’s journey back from darkness doesn’t simplify or sentimentalize the effects of mental illness. Francisco Stork shows us the universe of the human mind, how it can be terrifyingly dark – and how in the company of the right kind heart – infinitely dazzling.”
–Martha Brockenborough, author of the Game of Love and Death
“This is an honest look at recovery, about finding out from rock bottom, and about learning that the process of living with a mental illness is just that: A learning process. A solid, powerful story.”
Kelly Jensen, blogger at Stackedbooks.org
IRISES (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic January 2012)
(Starred) Publisher’s Weekly, November 14, 2011 In this ethically nuanced novel, Stork (Marcelo in the Real World) thrusts a devastating choice on two strong heroines. When their strict minister father dies, two El Paso sisters, 18-year-old Kate, who dreams of going to medical school, and 16-year-old Mary, a talented painter, are left with many painful decisions. At the forefront of their minds are their mother, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than two years following a car accident, and their perilous financial situation. Tension escalates when the church plans to evict them, the insurance company denies their father’s policy, and Kate resists pressure to marry her dependable boyfriend. As both sisters change and open up in unexpected ways without their father’s restrictive presence, questions of faith and the girls’ differing beliefs and outlooks provide a powerful theme, further complicated when Kate raises a potentially divisive question: whether to keep their mother on life support. Stork demonstrates his customary skill in creating memorable and multidimensional characters in a story that leaves lingering, contemplative questions regarding death, survival, and love. Agent: Faye Bender Literary Agency. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
(Recommended) Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books – February 2012 Since the accident that left their mother in a permanent vegetative state, Kate and Mary have suffered without her gentle support and respite from their pastor father’s oppressive rules about how they should dress, talk, and behave. Elder sister Kate has found some escape by depending on her best friend and her boyfriend to get her out of the house, but Mary has resigned herself to caring for her mother at home, her only self-asserting behavior being to claim an extra hour of art-studio time every day after school. When their father dies, the girls are lost at first, and they’re concerned about their financial ability to continue their mother’s care. Kate’s boyfriend proposes, but she finds herself attracted to the new pastor at their church, who introduces some challenges to her ideas of what it means to be selfish, among them the possibility of removing her mother’s feeding tube. The formal, measured diction of the prose reinforces the weightiness of the issues the girls face; it slows the reading down and mimics the girls’ own voices as they gradually awaken from their sheltered past to consider the ethics of their dreams. Kate and Mary are very different: Kate is a strong pragmatist who is extremely rational but feels inadequate in matters of the heart, while Mary is a dreamy artist who leads with her emotions; however, they are both strongly committed to each other and to their principles. Their story is thus a powerfully thoughtful exploration of one of the most serious questions contemporary life throws at us, and it’s made engrossingly messy by the sisters’ differences as well as the fact that their choice will ultimately determine their ability to embark on their own futures. Strong stuff, gently handled. KC
THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS (Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, March 2010)
Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award presented by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English.
The award is given to a young adult title demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal and literary merit.
Some Reviews: April 11, 2010 New York Times
Starred The Horn Book March/April 2010 Following his breakout book, Marcelo in the Real World (rev. 3/09), Stork offers yet another story with complex characters, rich and powerful themes, and a vivid setting. Tough-guy Pancho Sanchez is a ward of the state of New Mexico: his father died in an accident and his “slow” older sister, Rosa, died in a motel room under mysterious circumstances. Pancho is convinced that she was murdered and lives to take vengeance on his sister’s killer. Pancho is placed first in a foster home and then in an orphanage, where he meets and befriends D.Q., a strange boy with terminal cancer. D.Q. is writing the Death Warrior Manifesto, outlining his philosophy of embracing and loving life. He senses a kindred spirit in Pancho and recruits him to accompany him on an extended trip to Albuquerque for experimental treatment, hoping to mitigate Pancho’s lust for revenge. Once there, Pancho works on tracking down Rosa’s murderer, but he also bonds more closely with D.Q. and Marisol, a girl both Pancho and D.Q. fall for. Ultimately, Pancho needs to decide whether to cling to his desire for vengeance or forsake that quest, embrace forgiveness and acceptance, and move on with his life. Perceptive readers will not fail to recognize the allusions to Don Quixote in this novel of lonely quests and unlikely friendship. Stork’s latest marks him as one of the most promising young adult authors of the new decade; it features unforgettable characters confronting the big philosophical questions in life that will resonate with readers long after book’s end.
Starred – Publishers Weekly February 2010 Characters that are just as fully formed and memorable as in Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World embody this openhearted, sapient novel about finding authentic faith and choosing higher love. Seventeen-year-old Pancho Sanchez is sent to a Catholic orphanage after his father and sister die in the span of a few months. Though the cause of his sister’s death is technically “undetermined,” Pancho plans to kill the man he believes responsible (“How strange that a feeling once so foreign to him now gripped him with such persistence. He could not imagine living without avenging his sister’s death”). When D.Q., a fellow resident dying from brain cancer, asks Pancho to accompany him to Albuquerque for experimental treatments, Pancho agrees—he’ll get paid and it’s where his sister’s killer lives. D.Q. is deeply philosophical, composing a “Death Warrior” manifesto about living purposefully; through him, Pancho gradually opens to a world that he previously approached like a punching bag. Stork weaves racial and familial tension, tentative romances, and themes of responsibility and belief through the story, as the boys unite over the need to determine the course of their lives. Starred – Booklist February 2010 Though the police say that his sister, Rosa, died of natural causes, 17-year-old Pancho Sanchez is convinced she was murdered, and looking to exact revenge. With no surviving family (his mother died when he was five, and his father only three months before Rosa), Pancho is placed in an orphanage in Las Cruces, where he meets D.Q., a boy who is dying from a rare form of brain cancer. D.Q. is not just determined to find a cure, he’s also equally set on training Pancho to become what he calls a “Death Warrior.” Together, the unlikely companions embark on a quest to Albuquerque (Stork acknowledges echoes of Don Quixote here), and though they travel for their own reasons, once arrived, each will have to come to terms with what it might actually mean to be a Death Warrior. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World, 2008) has written another ambitious portrait of a complex teen, one that investigates the large considerations of life and death, love and hate, and faith and doubt. Though the writing occasionally tends toward the didactic, this novel, in the way of the best literary fiction, is an invitation to careful reading that rewards serious analysis and discussion. Thoughtful readers will be delighted by both the challenge and Stork’s respect for their abilities.
MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, March 2009)
- 2010 Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award for Young Adults (Awarded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance Library and Archives)
- Schneider Family Book Award (January 2010) (Awarded by the American Library Association for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences).
- New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2009 Washington Post Best Kids’ Books of the Year
- Smithsonian Notable Book of 2009
- A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, 2010
- YALSA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults,
- 2010 NPR.org Best Young Adult Fiction for 2009
- 2009 Booklist Editors’ Choice
- Horn Book Fanfare Book
- Kirkus Best Book of 2009
- Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009
- School Library Journal Best Book of 2009
- CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2010
- 2010 IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
Some Reviews: May 10, 2009. New York Times
Starred – Booklist – April 1, 2009 “Shot with spirituality, laced with love, and fraught with conundrums, this book, like Marcelo himself, surprises.”
Starred – School Library Journal – Mar. 2009 Writing in the first-person narrative, Stork does an amazing job of entering Marcelo’s consciousness and presenting him as a dynamic, sympathetic, and wholly believable character.
Starred – Horn Book March/April, 2009 Seventeen-year-old Marcelo Sandoval marches to the beat of a different drummer – literally. He perceives internal music in his head; he is obsessed with religion; he has difficulty interacting with others – behaviors that place him at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He is happy at Paterson, the special-education school he’s attended since first grade, and life is comfortable. Then his father proposes an unwelcome deal: if Marcelo proves successful in “the real world” by working in the mailroom at his law firm over the summer he will be allowed to choose between returning to his beloved Paterson or attending – as his father prefers – a regular high school. But as Marcelo begins his summer job, he finds his moral compass tested just as much as his coping and social skills. His loyalty is divided on multiple levels: between his father and the law firm, between a plaintiff and the law firm, between the privileged son of his father’s law partner who befriends him with dubious motives and the beautiful co-worker who gradually comes to care deeply for him. While the voice is reminiscent of the narrator of Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – both have an appealing blend of naivete and wisdom – Marcelo has the superior character development. His inspiring, brave journey into the real world will likely engender a fierce protective instinct in readers, ratcheting up the tension as the plot winds to its sweet, satisfying denouement. It is the rare novel that reaffirms a belief in goodness;rarer still is one that does so this emphatically. j.h.
Starred – Publisher’s Weekly January 2009 Artfully crafted characters form the heart of Stork’s (The Way of the Jaguar) judicious novel. Marcelo Sandoval, a 17-year-old with an Asperger’s-like condition, has arranged a job caring for ponies at his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables. But he is forced to exit his comfort zone when his high-powered father steers Marcelo to work in his law firm’s mailroom (in return, Marcelo can decide whether to stay in special ed, as he prefers, or be mainstreamed for his senior year).Narrating with characteristically flat inflections and frequently forgetting to use the first person, Marcelo manifests his anomalies: heharbors an obsession with religion (he regularly meets with a plainspoken female rabbi, though he’s not Jewish); hears “internal “music; and sleeps in a tree house. Readers enter his private world as he navigates the unfamiliar realm of menial tasks and office politics with the ingenuity of a child, his voice never straying from authenticity even as the summer strips away some of his differences. Stork introduces ethical dilemmas, the possibility of love, and other “real world” conflicts, all the while preserving the integrity of his characterizations and intensifying the novel’s psychological and emotional stakes. Not to be missed. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)
Starred – Kirkus Reviews – Jan 15, 2009 Making good on the promise of his Way of the Jaguar (2000), Stork delivers a powerful tale populated by appealing (and decidedly unappealing) characters and rich in emotional nuance. (Fiction. YA)
Other Good News About Marcelo: So far (as of February 14, 2010) Marcelo will be published in sixteen languages: Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French, German, Dutch, Greek, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Vietnamese, Slovak, Korean, Hungarian, Chinese Simplified, Turkish and Hebrew.
My favorite comment on the book: “Sir, on behalf of myself and my twin sons, who are like Marcelo, I want to thank-you for writing this book.