Monday, February 11, 2019

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER REVIEW: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina


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. So 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.


Middle school is a tough time under the best of circumstances.  It becomes more difficult once one throws in all the social drama, the pressure of living up to a scholarship, and changing family relationships.  Merci is faced with all of these challenges.  She attends a private school on a scholarship that requires her to do extra community service.  She doesn't really mind this, but she'd rather not be a 'Sunshine Buddy' after her unfortunate experience with the program the year before.  Things become even more complicated when she is assigned to be buddies with Michael Clark, the new boy, the boy that Edna Santos likes.  Edna's jealousy of Merci leads to even more tension between the two than already existed.  At home Edna resents having to spend so much of her time babysitting her annoying twin cousins.  She also wonders what's going on with Lolo, her grandfather, that no one wants to talk about.  Merci is a fabulous character that one can't help but root for in her efforts to juggle all the difficulties in her life.  She doesn't always make the right decisions though and has to face the consequences.  I especially enjoyed reading about Merci's family relationships that shine through as the most important thing in Merci's life, even when she's angry and frustrated with them. I'm thrilled to have a Newbery winner that I think middle grade readers are going to love.  I don't think I'll have a hard time selling this book at all.  

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