Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Merci Suarez is used to her close-knit family, who lives in a row of houses Merci’s mother calls Las Casitas. She’s used to playing soccer with her dad’s team and she’s even getting used to the fancy new school she started attending the year before. But now that sixth grade has started, everything at school is changing. And at home, Merci’s grandfather is acting strange. Will she figure out what’s happening with Lolo? Can she find a way to deal with the queen bee of her grade? Merci isn’t sure, but she’s about to find out.
Meg Medina is a well-respected and award-winning author of both picture books and young adult novels. Merci Suarez Changes Gears is her first middle grade novel. Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal named it one of the best books of 2018, and Merci also won the Newbery Award in January 2019!
Merci’s warm relationship with her extended family will be familiar for many readers, even if her specific situation is not. As her grandfather, Lolo, becomes more and more frail, Merci’s complicated emotions and fears resonate with readers who have had to face a loved one’s ageing.
In addition, many kids find the transition to middle school tough. Merci’s struggles to find her place at school while her fellow students seem to be growing up all around her felt very authentic. Medina doesn’t offer easy answers here, but Merci finds strength and identity in her family, community, and interests. And by the end of the book, she does begin to see her friends in a new light.
I loved the fact that so much of Merci’s ambition centers around getting a new bike, since that’s a rite of passage I remember vividly as well. Merci also loves playing soccer with her dad’s team. She wants to play on the sixth-grade soccer team at school, but the demands of family life and her parents’ limited finances make that dream feel out of reach.
Personally, I found Merci Suarez Changes Gears a perfect mix of optimism, heart, and realism. Merci faces real challenges and she doesn’t instantly overcome them. And yet, she knows what her goals are and she never loses sight of the importance of her family–even when they’re hard to put up with.
Highly recommended for independent readers who appreciate complex storytelling and are ready for a book tackling real issues.
If you like Merci Suarez Changes Gears, here are a few more books to try:
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
Front Desk by Kelly Yang