Review by Olivia Williams
Can one novel be big enough to capture the complex world of a sixth grade girl? Enter the life of Merci Suárez, a Cuban-American girl who feels overextended and overwhelmed between her school world and home world. She’s a new(ish) scholarship student at a fancy private school, an aspiring middle school soccer player, and a resident of Las Casitas, the community of three pink houses that her extended family calls home. As her social life at school ramps up, so do her family responsibilities. Merci finds herself struggling with the uncomfortable truths of aging, uncovering family secrets, and deciding who she wants to be going into her future.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a coming-of-age novel that succeeds because it embraces tensions alongside joy, refusing to shy away from class and cultural conflict. This is a book that celebrates difference as Merci navigates friendships and finds the sweetness in hard times as Merci’s Lolo ages. Merci’s story is a true new classic, echoing the earnest charm of many well-loved heroines through a new lens; truly anyone can find a piece of themself reflected in Merci’s strong voice. This book would be an excellent read for any young person going through big transitions, or for a family to work through as a loved one gets older. Don’t take just my word for it, the critics agree: as the Newberry Award winner for 2019, this is a story that will stay relevant for years to come.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina. (2018). Candlewick, 355 pgs.
Olivia is pursuing her teaching license and M.Ed in English Language Arts, but she is equally passionate about acquiring new hobbies, making more time to read, and finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.