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Merci Suárez Changes Gears

by Meg Medina


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Merci Suárez Changes Gears

by Meg Medina

Review posted January 28, 2019.
Candlewick Press, 2018. 355 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2018, based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Annual Conference.
2019 Newbery Medal Winner!

Note: This review was written after my first reading of the book, before I had discussed it with any committee members. The views are mine alone - and I gained yet more appreciation for this book when rereading and discussing it. And today I'm completely thrilled that this is "our" Newbery winner!

(That's fun! I just remembered when looking up my review of her earlier book, Mango, Abuela, and Me that I was on a Cybils Picture Books committee that chose her book as one of our Finalists. Now I'm on another committee that chose her book!)

This is another book about navigating middle school, this time from the perspective of sixth-grader Merci, who attends Seaward Pines Academy on a scholarship since her father does maintenance there. Merci lives with her extended family close by:

How we live confuses some people, so Mami starts her usual explanation. Our three flat-top houses are exact pink triplets, and they sit side by side here on Sixth Street. The one on the left, with the Sol Painting van parked out front, is ours. The one in the middle, with the flower beds, is where Abuela and Lolo live. The one on the right, with the explosion of toys in the dirt, belongs to Tía Inéz and the twins. Roli calls it the Suárez Compound, but Mami hates that name. She says it sounds like we’re the kind of people who collect canned food and wait for the end of the world any minute. She’s named it Las Casitas instead. The little houses. I just call it home.

Merci’s got some of the normal middle school pressures. She’s been assigned to be Sunshine Buddy to a new student who’s a boy, and the most popular girl in the school is jealous. But on top of that, she wants to be on the soccer team, but she’s expected to babysit the twins after school. And her grandfather Lolo, who has always been her confidant, is beginning to act very strangely. And through it all, she’s hoping to earn enough money to buy a better bike than the old rickety one she rides now with Lolo.

Merci’s a very likable heroine and her conflicts and friendships feel organic and not stereotyped. Author Meg Medina reminds us that middle school comes with lots of changes, and some of those changes – like a grandparent aging – aren’t good changes. But with the help of family and friends, we believe Merci’s conclusion that she’ll be able to switch to a more difficult gear and ride on.

Here's what the Newbery committee wrote about this book: "Using humor and grace, Merci, a charming and plucky protagonist, cycles through life’s challenges with the support of her intergenerational family. This richly nuanced novel tackles the complexity of navigating a multicultural identity amidst changing family dynamics."