Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Candlewick, 2018) was a great first novel to read this year. Merci’s story of the first half of sixth grade is a sweet, fun, and tender book. It deals with the realities of growing up and watches as Merci comes to a new understanding and place of growth.
Merci learns that she can’t do what she wants to do because of family responsibilties. She deals ith a “mean girl” at school and tries to find the confidence to be herself anyway. She wonders about what makes a real friend, and how to make friends in her school, which feels so different from her old one. Sixth grade, too, feels very different from fifth grade, which had just one teacher who cared about you and the same class of friends all day long.
Above all, I felt Merci’s struggle to understand her Grandfather’s deteriorating health condition (Alzheimer’s) was approached with her own age-appropriate understanding, anger, and frustration. I think she reacted as most 6th graders would. Medina did a great job of getting into that tween mind. I have a tweenager, so I felt for her own anguish with life as I read Merci’s story.
I love that the cover and title refer to Merci’s new bike, new gears, shifting up in bike size and difficulty, even though that dream bike doesn’t (finally) come until the very end of the book. I was just waiting for her to get that bike. That symbolic bike was the culmination, her realization that she’s shifted in life AND IT’S OKAY. Growing up will be hard. It will require getting used to. But with the shift in gears comes the benefits. For a bike rider, it’s a faster bike. For Merci, it’s a stronger understanding of herself, her strengths and abilities, and her joys as a person.
I believe Merci Suarez Changes Gears is a fantastic book well worthy of that Newbery Medal. It was the award winner in 2019. I am excited to see that there are now two more books in the series. I should plan to read this book with with my daughter this summer. Just before 6th grade will be just right.