Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (2018, Candlewick Press, 368 pages, ages 9 to 12)
Synopsis (from the publisher): Merci Suárez 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.
Why I recommend it: This delightful book won the 2019 Newbery Medal -- and definitely deserves it. I'm still playing catch-up with my reading (and probably will be forever!), but I don't mind when I get to read something as heartwarming as this. Merci's close-knit Cuban-American family is her saving grace when middle-school life gets complicated. The author portrays a large, loving family, flaws and all. Merci, who tells the story in first-person, is a wonderful character, so real and full of life. And her dismay at Lolo's health problems will make you love her even more.
Favorite lines (from p. 23): "Lolo and I always talk after school. ... And when I talk, Lolo isn't like Mami, who says things like give it a chance or look on the bright side or learn to ignore small things and all that basura that makes me feel like it's my fault that my day was a hunk of smelly cheese." (Note: there is no glossary, so I had to look up the word "basura", which means trash! Although it is pretty obvious from the context.)
Visit Meg Medina's website
For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, please visit Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle.