Meg Medina’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears explores family and school drama with warmth and nuance.
I recently picked up Meg Medina’s lovely Merci Suárez Changes Gears on sale for $7. This whim of a purchase turned out to be a great decision because I thoroughly enjoyed the book and devoured all 355 pages of it on a single Saturday! It’s been a minute since I’ve been able to muster the attention span to sit down and read. But this sweet story certainly compelled me enough to do it, and it was such a pleasure to become familiar with its lovely characters.
The book doesn’t quite follow a strict plot — it’s a slice-of-life-story that revolves around Merci Suárez, a sixth-grade Cuban American girl who lives with her family — her aunt, parents, grandparents, cousins, and brother — in three neighboring houses dubbed Las Casitas. Along with her brother Roli, Merci is a scholarship student at a ritzy private school. As a scholar, she’s required to be part of the Sunshine Buddies program to welcome Michael, a new student from Minnesota. Merci wants to get by in school, but her classmate Edna Santos (sixth grade’s Regina George) exists to wreak havoc on her life. On top of everything, her grandpa Lolo has started acting oddly, too.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears hit me right in the heart as someone who comes from a big intergenerational immigrant family with a grandparent who had Alzheimer’s. Medina is really generous with Merci’s perspective as a kid — there’s a guilelessness to her, but she also, naturally, gets angry and sad about things out of her control, whether it’s her grandfather’s illness, a school bully, or not being able to join the soccer team. Merci leads the story with a strong sense of self. She loves soccer, is in love with Jake Rodrigo, and wants a new bike. But the book gets to the crux of her heart as well. You really feel her devoted love for her family, especially her Lolo.
Medina explores aging with warmth and empathy, never settling for easy, neatly tied solutions. Merci’s problems don’t go away. She simply changes gears to face them.
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