Merci Suarez Changes Gears

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Merci Suarez Changes Gears Book Poster Image
Upbeat coming-of-age story explores culture, class, aging.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Merci's family comes from Cuba originally, and a good amount of the culture, food, traditions, some Spanish phrases are represented.

Positive Messages

Love and respect your family. Be proud of your traditions. No one can tell you who to be. Make friends with the people who respect you. Being different isn't always a bad thing. Do your best and you can hold your head high. Change isn't easy, but it's part of life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Merci has a close-knit family who live in the same building and share meals, caregiving responsibilities, and resources with one another. She's particularly close to her grandfather, Lolo, whose aging issues are bringing changes to the family. Merci has teachers whom she can trust. Her older brother Roli, who's getting ready to head to college, gives her advice and support.

Violence

Merci shakes her 5-year-old cousin when she's frustrated. Merci's grandfather charges at her grandmother when he's in a dementia state. Family members are in a car accident, which injures them slightly. Merci hears of a kid at another school who brings a knife and is taken by the police. Merci thinks of punching people when she's angry.

Sex

Talk of eighth-graders kissing.

Language

"Sucks."

Consumerism

Snapchat, National Geographic, Cadillac, Walgreens, Walmart, Nike soccer cleats, Gotas de Brillo, Elektra bicycle, Echo speaker, Gilda crackers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pura Belpre Award winner Meg Medina infuses Merci Suarez Changes Gears with Cuban traditions, sayings, and values. Merci Suarez is a sixth-grader whose family works hard to give her a great education by sending her to an elite private school. Class and culture issues are touched upon, as Merci feels like an outsider as a working-class Latina in an elite Florida school. Merci has a wandering eye, which she tries to hide and control, lest she be teased by the mean girl, Edna Santos, at her school. Meanwhile, at home, Merci's rock -- her beloved grandfather -- is struggling with age-related dementia, which changes the whole family dynamic. 

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What's the story?

"Do a good job, so they know we're serious people," advises Merci's dad in MERCI SUAREZ CHANGES GEARS. Merci has big shoes to fill: Her brother Roli is a star high school student who's almost too old to care about Merci's sixth grade challenges. And thanks to the popular crowd at Seaward Pines Academy, Merci has plenty of challenges. How can she keep from being the butt of Edna Santos' zinger comments when her Papi drives a beat-up painting van, her bike seat is losing its stuffing, and her darned eye won't stop wandering? On top of that, a new cute boy from Minnesota has been assigned to Merci as her "Sunshine Buddy" -- a duty of the school's welcoming committee -- which means Merci's every move is being scrutinized by the popular girls. At home, her grandfather is behaving strangely, which turns Merci's world upside down.

Is it any good?

Fascinating in its depiction of Cuban American culture, this optimistic story portrays immigrant life in South Florida. Kids will relate to the OMG-so-awkward moments that Merci suffers in sixth grade. Her place in the social pecking order isn't quite secure, and the girls she thought were her friends show flashes of brilliant charm and stunning cruelty in the blink of an eye. What Merci has that those kids might not is a rich family tradition that's so woven into her core values that she's unaware of how lucky she is. Sure, she shares a room with her brother and is obligated to watch her twin cousins after school, but the pride she takes in playing on her Papi's soccer team, and the loving relationship she shares with her grandfather, Lolo, are priceless. 

Author Meg Medina immerses Merci Suarez Changes Gears in a culture that many readers might not be intimately familiar with. The "Gilda" crackers, the Noche-buena Christmas Eve traditions, the delicious food her abuela cooks, and most of all, the closeness that defines many immigrant families. The plot takes a few chapters to get moving, but by the end of the book, Merci and her family feel like friends and neighbors. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about class differences in Merci Suarez Changes Gears. Merci is very conscious that her family can't afford luxurious vacations or new cars. She also works on the weekends. How does she cope with this? What do you think she does right? What could she do better?

  • Merci is bullied in a Snapchat message. What should a kid do when a classmate sends a mean message? Ignore it? Confront it? Tell a parent? When do you think any of these options should apply?

  • A tall, blond boy from Minnesota joins the school, sending everyone in sixth grade into a tailspin. How does living in a different region of the country affect who you are and how you look? 

  • What do you think of how Merci handles her grandfather's problems? Why are people ashamed to talk about age-related dementia?

Book details

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