Introducing… Merci Suárez! She is fun, spunky, ambitious, mature (and sometimes immature) – making for one highly representative middle-schooler. Merci’s story is one of change, of accepting the hard truths in life and the bumps along the road. Hers is also the story of a loving family that helps during this tricky time. Join Merci as she navigates her sixth-grade year, nostalgic for the way things were, yet plunged into the reality of the way things are. Meg Medina has create a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, getting to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school, and the steadfast connection that defines family.
I don’t know what is going to happen next year, no one does. But that’s OK.
Merci is challenged with the struggles that befall most middle schoolers – schoolwork, friends, bullies, and the sometimes embarrassing family members. Sixth grade is tough for everyone. As a scholarship student at an expensive academy, it’s even tougher for Merci. The girls she thought were her friends show flashes of kindhearted charm and then shift to stunning cruelty in the blink of an eye. She finds friendship, some drama, and some comedy in the midst of a huge school project. And while her big, loud, Cuban family can be a source of humiliation for Merci, it is ultimately a bedrock of strength, her firm foundation as everything else is shifting around her.
Medina brings the reader right into La Casitas, the compound of bright pink houses where Merci’s extended family lives, loves, and learns together each day. It is the intergenerational heart of the novel, and Medina crafts moments and emotions based in her own Cuban-American family that ring true to any reader. Her blend of Cuban culture, quips, and traditions give the story a rich vibrancy, authenticity, and honesty. With pesky little nephews, a kind older brother, a grandmother full of advice, and a beloved grandfather sliding into dementia, the Suárez family is complicated, sometimes messy, but always loyal and strong. That support leads Merci to understand that while change is inevitable, she is up to the challenge.
I can handle it, I decide. It’s just a harder gear, and I am ready. All I have to do is take a deep breath and ride.
Students and families will enjoy sharing Merci’s touching and honest journey through her sixth-grade year as her family adapts to new challenges ultimately coming together to support her. It is easy to see why this beautifully written and compelling novel won the Newbery medal. And, once families finish this book, there is a sequel – Merci Suárez Can’t Dance – waiting to be shared!