Merci Suárez Changes Gears
September 11, 2018
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.
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It's nice to see multigenerational families living near each other-- my own neighborhood has a lot of that. The grandparents are especially fun, and the Cuban culture and food vividly portrayed. Merci's struggles with classmates, projects, and assignments, as well as her changing relationship with her brother, are all very realistic. This reminds me a bit of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, but set in Florida. This joins the ranks of more recent novels concerning grandparents, which include Swartz's Smart Cookie, Gephart's In Your Shoes, Greenberg's The Battle of Junk Mountain and Reynold's As Brave As You.
This is a good transition by Medina, who has both picture books and young adult novels to her credit. There are a lot of topics being covered, which makes this book a bit on the long side, but her feel for middle grade emotions and reactions is on point.
Mental diminution in the elderly is a topic that young readers should have some knowledge of, since many of them will face problems with their grandparents before they are too much older. It always surprises me that families don't expect or discuss After my mother was diagnosed with Parkinsons a dozen years ago, we told the girls exactly what to expect. My mother is doing fairly well for 84, but none of us are surprised when she is confused. I guess it makes a better story the other way, since almost all books dealing with grandparents and dementia react with denial.
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