A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Meg Medina's Merci Suarez Changes Gears won the 2019 Newbery Medal. Merci Suarez is a sixth-grader whose Cuban American 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. The story is infused with Cuban traditions, sayings, and values.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- Author: Meg Medina
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewi
- Publication date: September 11, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love middle school and Latino stories
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.