Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sept. 4 2018

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 346

Themes: Cuban-American, Bullying, Aging grandparents, Alzheimer, Friendship

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Mercedes (Merci) Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she has no idea just how different. Merci has never felt like she fits in with the other kids at her private Florida school because she and her brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t live in a big house, and they have to do community service to make up for their tuition. Roli adjusts because he loves science and is a stellar student. When Merci is assigned to be a Sunshine Buddy with the new boy at school, bossy Edna Santos is jealous.

Things aren’t going well at home, either. Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, has acted differently lately. He forgets his glasses, falls off his bike, tries to pick up the wrong twin grandsons at school, wanders off and gets 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 like this book:

Meg Medina skillfully writes a heartwarming and engaging novel that tackles several big topics. There is a mean, rich-girl bully theme at school, due to the differences in social status and culture. While the rich kids show up in expensive SUVs, Merci arrives in the old truck Papi drives for his painting business. Instead of expensive vacations, Merci is stuck watching her twin cousins. And there is her grandfather’s Alzheimer diagnosis, which her parents shield Merci from until the end of the novel. Her concerns for Lolo turn into anger when she discovers that she is being lied to and treated like a child. After all, the Suárez family prides itself in being truthful.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy and filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three pink houses where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. The three identical houses are affectionately called Las Casitas. Needless to say there is a lot of chaos. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare, and support each other, even if money is tight.

The characters are memorable. Medina uses authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has worries, frustrations and angst about her looks. Merci is a strong-willed, but it  takes her a long time to realize that she is genuinely liked by many of her classmates and forms connections with ease as long as she is herself. This is a winning and completely satisfying coming-of-age story.

Meg Medina is the author of the YA novels Burn Baby Burn; Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won the Pura Belpre Author Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. She lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar


Lucky Broken Girl

Ruth Behar, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, April 2017; Puffin Books reprint April 2018

2018 Pura Belpré Award

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Cuban-Americans, Immigration, Second languages, Injury, Trauma, Family relationships, Friendships, Multicultural

OpeningWhen we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn’t speak English. So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It’s the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and reading.

Synopsis: When Ruthie Mizrahi moves with her family from her homeland of Cuba to the bustling streets of New York, it’s a lot to take in. There are new sights, new sound, and a new language. But Ruthie is adjusting. She’s already mastering English and has made some new friends. In her neighborhood, she is  known as the Hopscotch Queen. And she dreams of getting a pair of “go-go” boots, like her friend Danielle.

After she and her family spend the day with old friends on Staten Island, Ruthie and her family are in a car accident on the way home. Ruthie’s leg is broken in several places and she ends up in a body cast that stretches all the way from her chest to her toes. Just when she was starting to feel like life in New York would be okay, she’ll have to lie in bed for eight months and be treated like a baby again. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grows larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how a diverse group of friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Why I like this book:

This novel has heart, courage and hope. It’s uniquely diverse community of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers will restore your faith in humanity. And readers will cheer Ruthie as she overcomes her fears and learns to walk again.

I especially like how Ruthie turns her anger and hate towards the boy who injured her into forgiveness and hope. She is relieved her parents won’t sue the boy’s family, because she realizes that they lost their son and are suffering. Ruthie concludes that people makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean their bad.

It is a perfect book for readers recovering from a trauma or injury. As an adult I endured two traumatic injuries, so I understand how frightening this would be for a child. When Ruthie’s cast is removed after eight months, the real recovery begins on both physical and emotional levels. Ruthie is fearful and doesn’t feel safe outside of her bed.  She has to find her personal power again in a most remarkable way with the creative help and laughter of many memorable characters supporting her.

Lucky Broken Girl is based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, as a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl who is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed by a car accident that leaves her in a body cast. The interview with Ruth Behar at the end of the book is a must read. It will give readers greater insight into the story. Visit Behar at her website. There is a short video with the author. This is a great summer read!

Ruth Behar is an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction. Lucky Broken Girl, is her first book for young readers. She was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York City, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she is the author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys, and other books about her travels, as well as a bilingual book of poetry, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and travels often to Miami and Havana.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.