[Merci Suarez Changes Gears]: A Review

Hi y’all!

Hope you are having a great Memorial Day weekend in the US and are looking forward to summer. Hopefully the weather will get warmer again soon. We’ve had a cold front for a few days which is actually kind of nice for my pregnant self. Can you believe June is right around the corner? I feel like May has flown by.

I am really excited to share my review of Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. But I was excited to check it out as a recent award winner. This book won the 2019 Newbery Medal, and I really enjoyed it start to finish.

Initial Thoughts:

  • I continue my fascination with immigrant stories (see also Front Desk and Inside Out and Back Again). I am really enjoying these middle grade stories about immigrant families. While Merci never lived in Cuba (her grandparents came over as young adults, I believe), their traditions, language, and lifestyle (Las Casitas!) all reflect their Cuban heritage. I loved the Spanish throughout and their fun family traditions (different Thanksgiving foods and those delicious pastries every Sunday!). While she isn’t as wealthy as her classmates, we easily see the ways Merci is blessed by her family and heritage.
  • My copy of the book compared Meg Medina to Judy Blume, and I like the similarities between the two!

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According to Goodreads, “Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition.

When bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school.

In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

My absolute favorite character was Merci. What a fantastic protagonist we get in this novel! She loves soccer, taking pictures, and her traditions with her family–especially her grandfather Lolo. I love getting inside her head and seeing the changes in her family, friends, and herself. She’s navigating a tough time in life and I think her voice is vibrate and authentic about the difficulties of this age. She wants to fit in but also wants to do what she loves. She wants to understand why things are changing but is scared of what she’ll learn. She reads like a real preteen kid who is trying the best she can. She makes mistakes and tries to make amends. A great character for middle grade readers to look up to. Most of all, I love that Merci tries to be kind and helpful and that everything comes together well for her in the end.

I also really enjoyed Lolo and his journey. I loved Lolo so much. He’s the grandfather we all wish we had. He spends quality time with his grandkids, cheers them on, and is funny but also kind. Seeing him change through Merci’s eyes is beautiful and tragic. Their experiences at the beach when Lolo gets lost or when he falls off his bike are innocent but also emotional. I felt the struggle that Merci felt about keeping secrets and feeling left out of other secrets. I haven’t read many (if any others?) books that tackle an issue like this one. It’s a tough issue but also one that is pretty common. It’s important to talk about things like this and to create empathy for those who have experienced similar struggles. I thought Medina’s story was mature but also easy to connect with for readers of all ages especially younger ones.

This story captures the strange, awkward, rewarding, and confusing parts of middle school so well. Middle school is hard for everyone. There are mean kids. There are new friends and changing friends. There are misunderstandings. Everyone starts liking each other at different times. There are new classes and new assignments. Who really enjoys middle school? I think Medina nails the awkward and fulfilling aspects of this time of life. The changes and the mistakes that kids make and the way they start to build more meaningful relationships. Edna and Merci’s relationship is a perfect example. While I certainly don’t want to relive middle school myself, I appreciated the moments of joy and success that this story celebrates as well as the difficulties.

I really enjoyed this coming of age novel and getting to know Merci & her family. This is a clearly well deserved Newbery Medal winner for me. The writing style is engaging and fun especially for middle grade audiences. There are great themes of the importance of family, standing up for yourself, working hard to reach your goals, and making amends when you make a mistake. And the characters are authentic while also surprising. I’m very glad I bought this one. Highly recommend this book!!

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What are some of your favorite new middle grade novels?
What recent Newbery winner is your favorite?

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I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.

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