Skip to main content

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

I adore Meg Medina's YA novels. I feel like all of them (especially Burn Baby Burndo not get the love and accolades they fully deserve. I was so excited when I discovered she was writing a MG novel. The switch from YA to MG is not as easy as it would first appear, but Medina also has two delightful picture books to her name, so I knew she had the range. I was over the moon when she won the Newbery even though I had not yet read Merci Suárez Changes Gears. It couldn't have happened to a better author. Now that I have read the book, I know it won on its merits.

Merci is a 6th grader at a private school in southern Florida. Unlike the majority of her classmates, Merci doesn't take fancy vacations or have a big house or own a boat or two. She is a scholarship student. Her family is hard-working, but definitely not rich. Merci works hard and is smart, but knows she doesn't compare to her older brother in the genius department. Merci loves to play soccer, spend time with her Lolo, and paint for her family's business. Her life suddenly has a lot of confusing changes as she starts 6th grade, has to take on some community service she is disinterested in, and has family drama she doesn't quite understand.

Merci is an excellent character. She is the perfect book version of a 6th grader. She is so perfect it was easy to lose sight of the fact that she was a book character. She makes some poor decisions, acts on impulse, doesn't see herself or others clearly, avoids some responsibilities, and feels things strongly. There are points in the book when she's not necessarily likable, but there was never a point when I wasn't completely on her side. Even when she was being her most dramatic or petty, I understood her motivations and emotions so well. And my anger was directed at the people who were causing her emotions. I can only imagine how much more invested in her life reader's in the target audience will be. I loved how Merci's problems were so fully relatable too. Middle school is a time of massive transition for everyone. Friendships shift as do adult expectations of you. It is often sudden and doesn't take into consideration all the hormonal shifts happening at the same time. Medina uses this to showcase Merci's struggles not only with school changes but also at home. Her brother is a senior, so he will be leaving soon. Her grandfather is acting strange: forgetting things, wandering off, and falling more. All the adults in Merci's family are worried and stressed, which is, of course, affecting Merci too. Especially as no one is explaining anything to her.

What really sets this novel apart is the community aspect of it. Merci is always in a tight community. Her school community is small, and there is quite a bit of forced (and natural) camaraderie there. Her family is her most important community though. Merci lives in a house next to her grandparents' house which is next to the house of her Tía and two young cousins. As she says toward the end, she lives in her house but the rest is sort of flexible. There is no knocking. The food in one house is food for everyone. The closeness of the family is shown in all of its hard moments and its wonderful, strong ones.

The school part of the book was particularly strong for me. As a teacher, I could actually see all these kids as real people who I could see interacting in the ways kids actually act. A lot of contemporary MG books dealing with realistic elements in schools have an almost after school special feel about them. Like the adults writing them are seeing kids' interactions through the long lens of their memories and not seeing them as they are now. Medina gets the way kids actually interact and all the layers of and webs of their social interactions. It isn't simple. Sixth grade is a time when for various reasons friendships undergo a major shift. Often it isn't so clear cut and simple as, "this person was my friend and now they'r not". Merci is trying to fit in, to find her place at this school she's already been at a year. The shifting dynamics everyone is undergoing makes that more of a challenge. Medina  faces the complexities of MG social interactions head on with realism and true heart.

I will be enthusiastically  recommending Merci Suarez Changes Gears to all my students.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

TTT: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed blog hop created by  The Broke and the Bookish  and now hosted at  That Artsy Reader Girl . This Week's Topic: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List From Most Recent to Least: What books have recently caught your eye?

Favorite Kissing Scenes

When thinking of a favorite things post I could do for February I decided it would have to be kissing. I've already done couples and I was feeling in the mood to do something fluffy and Valentine's related. So kisses it is. I read more MG than YA, and the YA I read tends to not focus on romance so this was actually harder than I expected it to be though a few jumped into my head right away. (And one of my choices does actually come from a MG book. One is adult. Gasp!) The actual scene from the book is quoted followed by my thoughts. The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen's shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day . - The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner Turner doesn't write the

Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper  by Daniel José Older is everywhere. Best of lists. Award buzz. Blogs everywhere. It's one of those books everyone is reading and talking about. I had it on my TBR but decided I definitely needed to read it before the year was out just so I could weigh in on one of the most talked about books of 2015 if asked. It is deserving of every good thing said about it. Every. One. Sierra was looking forward to a relaxing summer break. Her plans involved hanging out with her friends and painting. They did not involve being chased by zombie like creatures and threatened by a magical power connected to her family's heritage she has never heard of. When murals begin fading all over her Brooklyn neighborhood, Sierra is perplexed. When her grandfather, who had a stroke, begins to apologize and starts repeating strange phases and insisting Sierra get the help of a boy she barely knows to help her finish her mural, Sierra is concerned but mostly about her grandfather. Then at a

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak  by Robert Beatty is a thrilling tale of mystery and adventure set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. Having lived in Asheville and visited the house several times, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read this. (Also it's MG fantasy, always a bonus for me.) Serafina lives in secret in the basement of the Vanderbilt's spacious vacation home. She has lived there most of her life. Her father worked on the house as it was being built and is the mechanic who runs the massive generator and keeps the electricity going. Serafina is the chief rat catcher, slipping through the halls of her massive home secretly and quietly. She is light on her feet, sees well in the dark, and is quick enough to catch the vermin and keep them out. Serafina knows she if different and strange. Her father insists she stay hidden. But all that changes when one night Serafina witnesses a horrible crime. A little girl, a guest in the house, is fleein

YA Book GIVEAWAY!!!

On Tuesday I posted my Top Ten Books Read so Far in 2013 and promised to highlight more of this year's favorites and offer them in giveaways. This is the YA giveaway. This is open to anyone who lives where Book Depository ships for free . Book Choices: TO ENTER: Leave a comment below saying which book looks most interesting to you and leave a way I can reach you if you are the winner. (email address or twitter handle-If you are using Twitter it would be helpful if you followed me, @brandymuses , in case I need to DM you.) Entries after Monday, July 1 8:00 PM EST are invalid. The winner will be drawn as close to 8 as possible.  Yes, I still do my giveaways the old fashioned way.