Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Hello!! I got super sidetracked by school and theatre and all the stress and anxiety that comes with that, but now I’m back with more time to read and write and blog. This book I actually read a while ago and it came out in September, so…yeah. I’m working on the balancing/time management thing, guys. It’s still not going well. But this new WordPress editor is giving me some inspiration!

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from 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.

Goodreads

Disclaimer: I was provided with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears has found its place on many year-end best 2018 middle grade lists and while it might not be my favorite, it does deserve a lot of that merit.

Merci and her other brother Roli (who she has a complex and great relationship with that I loved) attend a private school on scholarship, and they’re constantly negotiating how much they can contribute to school fundraisers and odd jobs to earn their keep. They don’t have as much money as the other students and are the children of a Cuban family that all lives together in connected houses. As the blurb says, Merci’s at that middle school transition age where everything is changing. The boys and girls are segregating, and Merci feels like Edna, who she used to be close with, now hates her. I don’t want to get too spoilerly, but a couple of things I appreciated: no romance, Merci gaining new friends, and Edna becoming more well-rounded by the end–something the “bullies” in MG often aren’t allowed to do.

What I struggled with–and I’m fully aware this is skewed by the fact I read it in small chunks over a month because of college–was the driving force and pacing. Compared to some other middle grades I’ve read recently (like Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World and My Year in the Middle), Merci doesn’t have as much of an overarching plot or guiding force, which can always be difficult in a middle grade novel. That said, the thing about Merci is she really doesn’t want things to change, and she’s struggling with her school life and her home life. Early on, I wasn’t sure what to focus on–her need for a bike, her family conflicts, her school friendships and possibly-love-interest, or her grandfather–but in the last third or so some hijinks at school definitely had me reading.

The most affecting part of the novel to me was Merci’s grandfather, Lolo. As an older reader with some experience with this myself, I certainly knew where it was headed, but Merci doesn’t. And that makes the revelation of what is really happening, and how her family has been afraid to tell her, that much more effective.

If you have a younger reader in your life or you’re looking for a good contemporary middle grade, Merci Suarez is a lovely protagonist to hang out with and Meg Medina crafted her with so much care.

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