“ I’m about strong girls, tough circumstances, and the connecting power of culture. “ –Meg Medina, a defining statement on her website.
Candlewick Press, 2018. Hardcover, 368
Middle-Grade | 9-13
I am reviewing from an ARC : thank you Candlewick and Netgalley
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina has earned all the starred reviews: Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book… What do you add when a book has earned all the stars and all the words you want to hear about when considering a contemporary novel for young readers?
Merci Suarez Changes Gears really does have all the things you want and need—and it doesn’t read in a contrived/formulaic way. You will be moved and entertained. You’ll fall in love with Merci and her family and friends. You will appreciate their struggles. Yeah, Merci Suarez Changes Gears is going to earn some [well-deserved] award stickers to go with those [well-deserved] stars.
The realization of Merci’s beloved confidant and grandfather Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is significant enough on its own. But there are other hard realities Merci must confront that I appreciated seeing in a young reader’s novel.
There is a mean-girl. [not unusual.] But while the novel considers Edna’s positive attributes and her own troubles, it will not allow her meanness to be explained in such a way as to excuse it. The expectations put on Merci and her brother Roli to perform flawlessly and gratefully because they are sponsored by a scholarship at a school that wouldn’t otherwise have them? The novel doesn’t excuse it. It doesn’t excuse Merci when she crosses a line, no matter how we might empathize. The story doesn’t allow anyone to have their own way. There are limits to reality and a reality steeped in community and family. I’m grateful for all the levity in the book because some of tensions/conflicts of that reality are painful.
There’s Hannah and her mother.
My heart hurt for Merci and Mami on that “permission slip morning.”
That gut-wrenching conversation Papi has with Merci following “the baseball” scene.
Trying to navigate a world where sex/gender suddenly creates difference and you’re not there yet. My eleven-year-old self strongly identifies with Merci Suarez.
Not much comes across as “fair,” even if it can be managed. Which makes the reader wonder: why isn’t it fair? And is this just life? Or could something change that could make a situation more fair, or at least, even more manageable?
In the meantime… Merci Suarez and her family and friends have to prove flexible and resourceful and invested in one another. The care and success of each other relies on everyone’s participation. The tension is: who is going to have to sacrifice what? And is there no independence, no means of mobility separate and apart from the things we feel bind us? For Merci and Roli both, mobility is represented by wheels (bike/car), the access to their passions (sports/research), and an education. Their own resources are only going to get them so far. [There is no boot-strap pulling narrative b.s. here.] There’s no going it alone. With family and friends like Merci’s, would you really want it any other way?
Recommended for any middle-grade reader; for those who like sports. For readers of The Perez’s The First Rule of Punk, Kate DiCamillo, Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, Revel’s Stonebird.
A great read anytime, but for Hispanic Heritage Month: you’ll enjoy a family that hails from Cuba and literature that speaks Spanish and English.