Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Merci Suárez #1

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Rate this book
Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting 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.

355 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Meg Medina

24 books636 followers
Meg Medina is the current National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. She is an award-winning and New York Times best-selling author who writes picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction. Her works have been called “heartbreaking,” “lyrical” and “must haves for every collection.” Her books include the Suárez family trilogy including Merci Suárez Changes Gears, 2019 John Newbery Medal winner, and 2019 Charlotte Huck Honor Book; Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, one of the 50 most anticipated novels of 2021, according to Kirkus; and Merci Suárez Plays It Cool, which was named a Best Book of 2022 by PARENTS, Kirkus, and The Horn Book magazines. She is a two-time winner of the Pura Belpré award, in 2016 (honor) for her picture book, MANGO, ABUELA AND ME, and in 2014 (fiction medal) for her young adult novel, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.

When she’s not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth, and/or literacy. She is a faculty member of Hamline University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Children’s Literature and lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,076 (39%)
4 stars
3,432 (44%)
3 stars
1,103 (14%)
2 stars
144 (1%)
1 star
43 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,559 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
March 2, 2019
This book is heartwarming and bittersweet with a sugar-dusting of humor. Medina captures all the awkwardness and unexpected changes of life in the sixth grade, and she pairs that with a convincing portrayal of Merci Suárez's beloved grandfather succumbing to Alzheimer's disease.

Lots of important issued covered here, from family dynamics and new friendships to first crushes and conflict resolution. Just when Merci Suárez Changes Gears begins to feel a bit long-winded, Medina clenches it with a gratifying final page.

A lovely addition to the library of Newbery Medal winners.
I spot something washed up in the surf. It's a shoe, half-buried in the sand.

Lolo's yellow socks are still stuffed inside, covered in pebbles and seaweed from the waves. There's no sign of his other shoe anywhere. From the looks of things, it must have been dragged off in the tide.

I take two shaky steps into the water and call out his name.


[. . .]
Keep an eye on him. I hear Abuela's words in my head. It wasn't long ago that she would stand at the shore as we headed in, calling those same words about me. "Keep an eye on la niña," she'd tell Lolo, her voice fading in the crash of waves as went into the deep.

My eye starts to pull uncomfortably, and I rub my fist against it hard. Where can he be?
Profile Image for Julie G.
897 reviews2,934 followers
May 28, 2019
Before I write this review, I need to wipe a few tears from my eyes.

This past Thursday, our middle child experienced her last day of elementary school, and this book, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, was our last read aloud in the lower grades.

It's been an emotional week of saying goodbye to teachers and classmates who won't be at the next school, and the toughest moment of all might have been when that little kindergartner handed our daughter a rose and whispered, “I'll miss you next year.”

It's fitting, though, that her teacher chose this book to finish out their 5th grade year. This Newberry Medal winner is all about life in 6th grade. . . and that's where our daughter and her classmates are headed.

And it's a good book. . . for the most part. I struggled with the title: Merci Suarez. The French does not mesh with the Spanish, and I wish the author's editor had made her say the title out loud fifty times, until she realized it does not work. The title was so frustrating to my 11-year-old, she finally renamed it “The Suarez Book.”

I also struggled with the author's whimsical desire to make all plot points match up perfectly to attain her desired outcome. I have worked at schools for many years of my life, and Ms. Medina makes things happen at school that just don't happen in real life, not even in private schools.

However, what she does well here is character development and dialogue. I never doubted any of her characters or their struggles, and for any parent or teacher reading this, it is a great book for any incoming 6th graders or kids in the middle grades. If you've ever been a girl or are familiar with the book Odd Girl Out, you may know a little something about how girls can ostracize their female peers ever so under the radar and ever so painfully. This book addresses the issue well.

I don't know what next year will bring or if I'll be able to continue to “read aloud” to my tween, but it was pleasant to have a head against my shoulder for 350 pages of this book.
Profile Image for Heather Adores Books.
863 reviews478 followers
July 20, 2023
Genre ~ middle grade
Series ~ Merci Suarez #1
Others in the series ~ Merci Suárez Can't Dance #2, Merci Suárez Plays It Cool #3
Publication date ~ September 11, 2018
Page Count ~ 366
Audio length ~ 7 hours 9 minutes
Narrator ~ Frankie Corzo
POV ~ single 1st

Just a quick review because I accidentally committed to reading book 3 before I knew this was part of a series, so luckily I was able to grab a copy from my library. 366 pages on a middle grade book is a bit more time than I wanted to spend, but here we are. And book 2 is 384, yikes!

11 year old, Merci, is our only narrator. We get to know her and her tight knit family.

Typical 6th grade stuff going on ~ some mean girls & boys, first crushes, trying to fit in, thinking you're so grown up and, of course, body changes and developing in the booble region.

I really enjoyed Merci's relationship with her Lolo (grandfather). It was so cute that they took bike rides together and really just enjoyed each others company. Lolo is starting to show signs of Alzheimer's, which was sad, but I found it to be written realistically.

Now I'm invested in Merci's life and can't wait to see what happens next in Merci Suárez Can't Dance.

Connect with me ➡ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
September 29, 2018
3.5 stars roundup
A middle grade novel with plenty of heart, Merci Suarez Changes Gears is the kind of novel that young readers with large extended family will gravitate towards. Heartwarming is not a word I use too often in my reviews, but it is certainly warranted in regards to this book. Like Merci, I was close to my grandparents and even lived with my paternal grandparents for a time when I was a teenager. I loved the author's note too.
86 reviews
February 16, 2019
I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to people who like realistic fiction. HOWEVER, that being said, this book should not have won the Newbery. It was not "distinguished" or "memorable" in any way. It was a nice, quick read and I enjoyed it, but.
The Newbery committee can make some... interesting choices.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,634 followers
February 1, 2020
This is a beautiful story about a girl, Mercedes "Merci" Suárez, in Fort Myers, Florida who is going into 6th grade. Her family all live together in three connected houses that they call Las Casitas. Merci is in private school and has to help her relatives paint the school to pay her way. She has the typical challenges of a 6th grader (friends, enemies, school projects, sports) and at the same time, her abuelo Lolo has Alzenheimers but no one has told her yet. It is a very touching tale that reminded me of South Florida and of growing up. Definitely, a book well-deserving of the Newbery Medal it earned.
Profile Image for Phil J.
729 reviews56 followers
February 17, 2019
This is really two books.

The first book is the story of a sixth grader whose feelings are mildly bruised because the popular girls don't pay enough attention to her. This is a familiar formula. While Medina executes it with more grace than, say, R.J. Palacio, the thing that she misses is stakes. The popular girls are no real threat. The consequence of their meanness is a slight downtick in Merci's self-image.

The second book is more interesting and unusual. It is about a girl's changing relationship with her family, especially as they cope with her grandfather's Alzheimer's. Medina's description of the family dynamics felt real. There are no bad guys or incompetents in this family- just people who love each other and are struggling a bit under the pressures of life. I was much more invested in this part of the book, and I wish it wasn't sandwiched inside a formulaic fish out of water story.

I have a lot of issues with the last paragraph

I don’t know what is going to happen next year, no one does. But that’s OK. 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.

These are the closing lines of the book. It's well-written, but it doesn't fit the 300+ pages that went before it. Merci's struggle is not uncertainty about what will happen next year; nor is it lack of confidence that she can handle life. Merci's struggles are revolve around honesty with her family members, being accepted as a teenager by her family members, and learning that she doesn't need to be so intimidated by popular girls. None of this is reflected in this paragraph. It feels like Medina wrote something that sounded nice and tacked it on for some cheap sentiment.

The bike metaphor is also misplaced. Merci does not struggle with changing gears on her bike; she struggles with wanting a new bike. Suddenly, in the last three sentences, the metaphor is changing gears? That's like if you got to the last 20 pages of Moby-Dick, or, the Whale and Melville said, "Actually, it was a marlin all along." Bleh.

One more thing- just taking a deep breath and riding is not the lesson Merci needs to learn. If anything, she does that way too much and takes others for granted. She needs to slow the heck down and pay more attention to her impact on others.
Profile Image for Juli.
1,899 reviews490 followers
October 1, 2018
Sixth grade is a tough year for every child. As a scholarship student at an expensive academy, it's even tougher for Merci Suarez. Not only does she have to learn to endure middle school where she doesn't always feel she fits in with her classmates, but she also has to start growing up and facing changes. Not just changes in herself, but changes in her family as well. Her brother is getting ready to leave for college and her grandfather is showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. It's a time of change and lessons to learn. Merci Suarez faces them with strength and intelligence.

I'm really impressed by the selection of children's books published by Candlewick Press. Every book I have read has just been outstanding! Merci Suarez Changes Gears touches on some major topics for middle school girls -- the end of childhood, growing up, taking more responsibility, seeing grandparents age, the pain of older siblings leaving home, learning to love and care for smaller children in the family, and just the joys and stress of living with extended family. This book is heart-felt, emotional and completely awesome! Merci learns to think of others and grows up a bit, while learning to live in her own skin and love the person she is. Wonderful story!

Meg Medina has written several books for the YA and middle grade audience. I will definitely be reading more by this author!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Candlewick Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
Profile Image for Katy O. .
2,326 reviews723 followers
March 13, 2019
2019 Newbery Winner - not going to review for real because it already won the Newbery, so I don't think my personal feelings about it are all that relevant! I will say, however, that it's the first Newbery title that I've highly enjoyed in a long time, so there's that. As for kids, there will be kids who absolutely love it, and some who don't, same as with any other book. I'd love to see it as a whole class read aloud, as I think that's how this story will have the most impact. Sweet spot is grades 4-6 in my opinion.
Profile Image for Josiah.
3,222 reviews147 followers
November 3, 2021
I've discovered numerous wonderful authors solely because they won the Newbery Medal, and Meg Medina can be added to that list. Successful before Merci Suárez Changes Gears hit the market in 2018, her popularity took a big leap when the ALA Newbery Committee named her book the year's most distinguished American contribution to children's literature, and it measures up well against every criteria for the award. Like every kid, eleven-year-old Merci Suárez is due for changes as she enters sixth grade. Her seventeen-year-old brother Roli, a science and math whiz, has attended prestigious Seaward Pines Academy on scholarship for years, but this is Merci's debut at the school. The Suárez family—including Merci's grandparents (Abuela and Lolo), her aunt (Tía Inés), and Inés's five-year-old twins Tomás and Axel—live in a house called Las Casitas, which is barely big enough. The Suárezes wouldn't have the money for tuition to Seaward Pines if it weren't for scholarships, but Merci and Roli's Mami has a job as a physical therapist, and it provides the essentials. Merci is nervous about school, but hopeful she might like it. How will she adjust to a new building, and having several teachers instead of one? She'll find out soon.

All Seaward Pines students are given a community service job, and Merci's is to be a "Sunshine Buddy" to a new kid. She's assigned Michael Clark, who moved from Minnesota over summer. Life in suburban Florida is bound to be different, and Merci is expected to ease his transition, though she doubts her ability to help. Edna Santos, who certainly is no scholarship student, is as passive-aggressively rude to Merci as last year, under the guise of friendship. A gaggle of girls and boys surrounds Edna at all times, and Michael Clark seems as entranced by her as everyone else, but Merci has bigger troubles. Sixth grade represents the first chance to join a school team, and Merci is excited about trying out for soccer until she senses her mother's hesitation. Merci loves playing fútbol with her Papi and the employees of his painting company, good-natured but competitive scrimmages that push her athletic limits. She's prepared to thrive on the soccer field against kids her age, so it's a bitter disappointment when Mami says she can't try out. Things are hectic around home, what with Tía Inés's work schedule; Merci will be needed to babysit her cousins Tomás and Axel, and Lolo can no longer do it by himself. For years Merci and her grandfather enjoyed a special relationship; she could tell him worries that the rest of the family would call silly, but Lolo took them seriously and reassured Merci. The family grows concerned after recent incidents demonstrate he may be unable to care for himself, let alone rambunctious five-year-old twins. Merci is distraught to give up school soccer for the year; surely Edna is forced to make no such sacrifices.

Sixth grade is brimming with surprises. Miss McDaniels, the secretary, won't hear of transferring Merci out of the Sunshine Buddies program. It's an honor, she insists, and Merci is perfectly capable of living up to it. Interacting with Michael Clark is awkward at first—he's incredibly tall and Edna makes it known she has a crush on him—but he's an athlete like Merci. His sport is baseball, which Merci also excels at, though an accident with a batted ball puts even more distance between Merci and Michael and jeopardizes her status in the Sunshine Buddies. Edna's low-key contempt for Merci ratchets up when Michael and Merci are assigned to work together on a costume project, and Michael arranges to go over to Las Casitas so Abuela can ply her talent as a seamstress on him. Edna can be vicious if she feels she's getting the short end of any deal, and she won't let an opportunity pass to do Merci a bad turn. Sometimes Edna is more of a bully than a friend.

There's time for much drama and excitement leading up to the school fair right before winter break. Merci is tugged in opposite directions by her family, friends, and teachers, who all demand large portions of her time and energy. As Merci tries to earn good grades and have a social life despite frequent babysitting duty, Lolo's condition deteriorates. He needs her more than ever, and Merci is shaken when her family finally discloses how bad it's going to get for Lolo. The day will come when he won't recall his happy times with Merci, when he'll look at her and see a stranger. The world is changing in unpleasant ways, but Merci is changing too. Girls in class are going gaga over boys; soon Merci will feel the same, and not just about her favorite handsome movie star. Whenever family responsibilities keep Merci from activities she loves, she almost wishes her family were less close, but having them all at Las Casitas won't last forever. Someday Lolo will only be a fond memory, and Roli will leave to attend university and find his own future. The here and now is a delicate balance, and tomorrow is about reacting when it topples and the things we care about most land in new places. There will be tension and laughter in Merci's tomorrow, sky-high hopes and moments she will carry in her heart the rest of her days, but for now she's doing her best to grow into a good person and learn the lessons life teaches. What waits over the next horizon for her?

Unlike many Newbery winners, Merci Suárez Changes Gears isn't packed with memorable quotes. The story is tender and wise, but the insights and messy details of Merci's experience defy separation. It's like trying to extract a raw egg out of a finished cake. One could revisit the book again and again, though, and get more out of it with each read, learning from Merci's unsteady coming of age. Lolo's prime is behind him, but Merci remembers the wise, witty man he was, and his advice of old helps her navigate life at Seaward Pines and Las Casitas. Should Merci speak up when troubled, or not cause problems? That depends on the situation, but she figures out that most grievances aren't made better by complaining. "In a closed mouth, no fly will enter," Lolo used to say. Why stir up unnecessary complications? Lolo abides by a similar philosophy regarding the disease that is slowly stealing him from his family. "Why think about drowning before we reach the river?" he asks Merci. Someday the floodwaters will cover you, but until then, enjoy life with your loved ones. Don't let angst rob you of your remaining time; you won't get a do-over.

I don't agree with every year's Newbery Medal selection, but Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a keeper. Robin Yardi's cover blurb saying "Meg Medina is the Judy Blume for a new generation" sounds like an exaggeration to those of us who have read and been awed by Ms. Blume's novels, but the comparison isn't outlandish. Meg Medina's narrative holds all the small rewards of real life, as well as characters that reflect our own fears and dreams, characters our hearts miss even as we're turning the final page. Merci is that sort of character, and she isn't the only one in this story. Whether or not I would have awarded Merci Suárez Changes Gears the 2019 Newbery, it is definitely on that level. Well done, Meg Medina. I will always be a fan.
Profile Image for Joe.
96 reviews716 followers
May 20, 2019
"Meg Medina is the Judy Blume for a new generation."

So reads the pull quote at the top of the book's cover. This quote spoke to my heart, because as a child of the eighties, I loved Judy Blume.

It's an apt description, too. In some ways, Marci Suárez Changes Gears is a cousin of Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. Like Blume, Medina's writing is sharply focused but accessible and evocative. It illuminates the everydayness of every day. Frankly, Medina's writing is probably better than Blume's. There are passages of Merci that are downright swoon-worthy, and since the Newbery Medal is awarded to writing, I can certainly see how the committee also swooned.

Those looking for a plot-driven book are in for a rude awakening in reading Merci Suárez Changes Gears. This is a slice-of-life character study that pokes the edges of what it means to be a human: navigating family, being true to oneself, pushing up against boundaries, physical and otherwise, and figuring out your place in the world. All this messiness is poured into Merci, an immensely likable girl who feels nothing less than fully realized. Through both broad brushstrokes and laser-sharp focus, we see the world as Merci sees it, in all its unjust and spectacular glory.

Merci's family is lovingly rendered, each character brought to life through their actions, which is a strength of Medina's writing. She is always showing us something, lifting a curtain, giving the reader a peek. In many ways, reading Merci Suárez Changes Gears is like existing as a fly that follows Merci around, seeing what she sees - sometimes understanding how she feels, but mostly just watching and listening.

Merci's tense, unresolvable relationships with Mean Girl Edna and New Boy Michael makes this an especially engaging read. Having taught middle schoolers for close to two decades, I've met countless Edna Santoses, and Medina nailed her characterization - the chippy language ("no offense, but..."), the smooth-as-milk interaction with adults, the calculated machinations. Merici's flinty resolve in trying to understand and adapt to that behavior is particularly well-drawn, and there is no pat conclusion to the conflict, which I really like.

Readers should know that there is a fair amount of Spanish in the book, and none of the tricks of the publishing industry, like italicizing non-English words (around which there has recently been a lot of - in my opinion - manufactured outrage) or context clues are generally given. It's been 20+ years since I was in a Spanish classroom, but I still understand ein bisschen (winky-face), and I found myself eventually getting tired of using Google Translate for the phrases I didn't immediately self-translate.

About 3/4 of the way through the book, it hit me pretty hard: ohhhh, right. This book isn't meant for me... or for many white, non-Spanish (or rusty Spanish) speaking people. This book is for a very particular child. It's Judy Blume for this audience. It's not Judy Blume for me. That can be a tough pill to swallow, but I imagine it's how many children feel when they read or, in the American education system, are forced to read about people who aren't like them. So the lack of italics makes sense. I didn't like the lack of italics, but this book isn't for me. It's immaterial how I feel about the italics.

Why am I giving Merci Suárez Changes Gears three stars? It seems I enjoyed the book. I did. I did enjoy it. A lot, in parts.

One of my dings is the length. For a whole lot of Nothing Much Happening, this is a chunk-a-lunk of a book. Nothing, aside from an impending book club discussion, drew me to the book every time I put it down.

Second is my hang-up about the Newbery Medal. For the last three years, the Newbery committees have made very pointed political statements in all the Medals and Honors bestowed. I won't get into my theories here, but I stand by my statement and can offer what I think is fairly plausible evidence to back up my opinion.

Look, I get it: like many of us, the Newbery committees of late are pissed at the state of the country. I'm pissed, too, but I don't think giving awards to children's books to Make A "Bold" Statement changes anything except overlooking other equally deserving books. 2018 was ripe with truly beautiful books with writing as good - if not better - than the writing in Merci Suárez. I could argue an honor for Merci, but not the medal. That's just me.

Medina's book, though, will touch the hearts of thousands of children. And that's what it's all about. Not me. Not my opinion.

In that sense, yay Newbery committee.
Profile Image for Edie.
468 reviews14 followers
June 2, 2018
I loved every minute of my time with Merci and her family a large loving multi-generational family facing the changes in Merci's beloved Lolo, the person in the family who seems to understand her the most. Merci and her brother are the scholarship kids at their private school and she often feels like an outsider, especially around an overbearing classmate. But she holds her own. There is lots of spanish naturally interspersed in this book as it is in Merci's life. Her teachers are demanding but well realized as are her classmates, whose roles are small but who are individuals too. There are disappointments, a soccer team she can't join because of soccer obligations but some triumphs too even if small (getting her team to add collage to their clay map).
Profile Image for Katie Fitzgerald.
Author 4 books207 followers
February 12, 2019
Mercedes (Merci) Suárez lives in Las Casitas with her parents and older brother, Roli, her Tia Ines, her five-year-old twin cousins, and her grandparents. She attends a private school on scholarship, making her something of an outsider with her peers, a problem which is compounded when Merci is assigned to be the buddy of a new boy on whom her rival, Edna Santos, has a crush. At home, Merci is also struggling to understand the behavior of her grandfather, Lolo, who has begun to behave strangely as his Alzheimer's disease progresses. As her situations at home and school come to a head, Merci will need to learn to adapt to change, a lesson she finds difficult to embrace.

I have to admit to being surprised that this book was awarded the Newbery Medal. While it's a perfectly fine story, there is very little about the straightforward writing style or predictable plot that I would call distinctive. The only thing that really sets it apart is that it's a diverse book: Merci's family is not white, they speak Spanish, and they have a living situation (three houses side by side) that isn't common in the predominant American culture. Therefore, my guess is that this book was given this award based more on its championing of diversity than on its merits as a work of literature. While I understand that diversity is now considered by many to be an indicator of quality, I don't really buy into that idea, so I was disappointed not to find something new and fresh in the style or characterization in this book that stood out as special. While I don't like seeing the awards go to political books, I also don't like seeing them go to mediocre books for political reasons, and it seems like that might be what happened here.

Had this book not been the Newbery winner, I am fairly certain I would have judged it less harshly. It truly is a solid novel, despite the cliched dementia storyline involving Merci's grandfather, and the cliched mean behavior of middle school girls. Though the storyline is not that original, it is presented in an appealing way, and I know I would have enjoyed this book when I was in sixth grade. I also enjoyed the inclusion of Spanish phrases, none of which were translated in the text (something that can often be done awkwardly), but all of which I figured out either based on the little Spanish I remember from high school or just based on context. Merci and her brother Roli also have a very positive relationship despite the gap in their ages, and it was nice to see them getting along and supporting each other.

Still, the more I look for those hallmarks of distinction, the more flaws I notice instead: the bike metaphor that doesn't quite work, the lack of a meaningful connection between the grandfather storyline and the friendship storyline, the unresolved tension surrounding Merci's decision to lie about her grandfather taking a fall, etc. Thematically, this may be the book many readers have been looking for, but in terms of literary merit, it's a good book, but not a great one. While I think there is a definite place for it on the shelves of libraries serving middle schoolers this year and next, I don't see as clear a place for it in the canon of children's literature in the long-term.

This review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,681 followers
April 1, 2019
I had never heard of this book when it won the Newbery, and asking a friend who works at a bookstore about it, she admitted that none of them had heard of it either! I planned to read it, of course, and mentioning to another friend (a school librarian) that I had just gotten it from the library last week, she told me that she loved it, and that it "fills a need."

And it does. I can see why this would attract awards attention, and hope that the Newbery gives it a boost into the hands of the kids who need it. Merci Suarez is an average kid . . . she does well in school if she studies, she wants a new bike, and she loves to play soccer. She has a loving family, and they all work hard to support each other financially as well as emotionally. But middle school is turning out a bit harder than she thought, outside of the grades and the soccer tryouts and the ancient bike: her beloved grandfather is acting strange, and no one will talk to her about it. Her frenemy Edna Santos is in fine passive-aggressive form, especially when Merci is assigned to be the "Sunshine Buddy" for a new student who happens to be a cute boy.

So, just like in most lives, Merci has a lot going on! The reason why I liked this book, but didn't LOVE it, is because I felt like for most of the book it was almost too much. A lot got piled on at the beginning, with no little triumphs or good news to alleviate it for most of the book. Bad things happen at school, things are weird at home, Edna turns most of the girls against her, etc. There's no life-shattering tragedy, and the book ends on a happy note, but I feel like some of her successes should have come earlier in the book, rather than saving them all for the ending.
Profile Image for Cindy.
301 reviews2 followers
April 30, 2019
I’m disappointed, Newbery Committee. While this is a sweet story, it is a familiar formula, and not the best application of it. At best, I’d say this might qualify as an Honor book, but not a winner. Maybe the pool was a bit weak this year? I intend to read the two actual Honor winners to find out.
The formula is as follows...11-year-old girl trying to adjust to the many changes in her life—middle school, brilliant brother preparing for college, and her beloved Lolo (grandfather), who is becoming more forgetful and disoriented. I just felt like the plot was too predictable, and kept waiting for some emotional climax or surprising plot twist. Nope, just the usual frustration with family, confusion with changing friendships, and then the final realization that it’s ok to embrace new relationships and to appreciate what it truly means to be family. It’s a nice read for 4th to 6th graders. But not award-winning material.
UPDATE: I read both Honor Books—and The Book of Boy was HEADS AND TAILS better! The Night Diary—I’d say even with this one.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,164 reviews33 followers
August 30, 2018
Merci attends a private school by doing "community service." Her friend is jealous of her assignment since Merci is assigned to help the friend's "crush." At the same time, Merci's grandfather Lolo, to whom she is quite close, is declining rapidly due to Alzheimer's Disease, and Merci doesn't really understand what is going on due to the family's decision to keep her in the dark. It's a coming-of-age tale which may appeal to middle school readers at the moment but probably lacks an enduring quality. Additional editing would shorten and make the story stronger. The author includes some common Spanish words in the story which are not translated for the reader. I suspect many middle school readers, particularly in Southern and Southwestern States with many Mexican and Central American immigrants, will not need a Spanish dictionary nearby, but I anticipate it might create problems for those with little exposure to the Spanish language. The book probably works best for middle schoolers with family members suffering from dementia. I received an advance e-galley in exchange for an honest review through the publisher via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Wendi Lee.
Author 1 book470 followers
August 15, 2018
Merci hates change, but sixth grade means other kids are starting to act differently (why are the girls giggling around the boys). She’s paired with a new boy in the Sunshine Club, which gives mean girl Edna ammunition to tease Merci relentlessly. And then there’s Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, who is changing in ways that none of Merci’s family wants to talk about.

I loved this middle grade novel, which perfectly captures what it feels like to be a tween in a large extended family, maneuvering through middle school. Life is not fair, and change is relentless, but Merci learns that her family will always be there for her and each other. I also felt tenderly toward Lolo. My own grandfather, who lived with us and was like my second father, also suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an arc.
Profile Image for Shenwei.
462 reviews221 followers
January 6, 2020
Captures the essence of middle school perfectly: the troubles of fitting in among, the frustration of butting heads with your parents, puberty and the confusing aspects of people around you developing crushes and acting weird. It also tackles classism and the experience of being poor in an environment where everyone else is rich and the alienation that comes with it. I loved or loved to hate the characters and watching Merci grow was satisfying.
Profile Image for DaNae.
1,433 reviews74 followers
December 21, 2018
Merci is what I know of sixth graders: Self-interested, generous, loud, tongue-tied, confidant and insecure. Throw in a loving and aggravating family, that spills back and forth between the three casitas, and you get a marvelous jumble of strong personalities that sometimes hinder, but mostly support each other.
Profile Image for The Reading Countess.
1,759 reviews59 followers
February 7, 2019
Listen, people. I’m as big of a fan of shouting SURPRISE! at a party as the next person, but the next time we announce the Newbery, can someone PLEASE put the winner on my radar beforehand? I mean, I like to look like I can pick a winner and that I like to read books for middle grade readers because...you know what? I can and I do. But I was fooled, ya’ll. And my heart hasn’t stopped beating ninety to nothing since everyone jumped out of the dark corners of the party and shouted SURPRISE!

Plucky main (girl) character who has what educators like to call grit nowadays? Yup.

Cool, smart, older brother who is the kind of bro we all would want? Uh huh.

Close knit, down-to-earth Hispanic family dealing with an abuelo whose “remember me,” as my youngest son used to call it, is finking out on him? Check.

Throw in one ritzy private school setting where you’re the main character on scholarship, a mean girl or two, the natural, yet confusing, blossoming interest issues between the guys and girls in sixth grade (woo-ooo-ooo), and you’ve got the reason why people were shouting SURPRISE for this year’s Newbery.

Good on you, Meg Medina, good on you.
440 reviews17 followers
February 11, 2019
This is likable. I hope I will be forgiven this rating, as I am not really being contrarian with respect to the Newbery. I didn't like the stereotypical characterizations of several secondary characters: Roli above all, but also characters like Edna, Miss McDaniels, and Ms. Tannenbaum. Those who know me know this is more of a pet peeve than a larger comment about the book’s quality. I have complained in the past about representations of STEM and high-achieving kids, and I guess I am also sensitive to the representation of teachers and school staff, both the "good" and the not-so-good. Listened to audiobook.
Profile Image for Brandy Painter.
1,633 reviews251 followers
May 14, 2019
Originally posted at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

I adore Meg Medina's YA novels. I feel like all of them (especially Burn Baby Burn) do not get the love and accolades they fully deserve. I was so excited when I discovered she was writing a MG novel. The switch from YA to MG is not as easy as it would first appear, but Medina also has two delightful picture books to her name, so I knew she had the range. I was over the moon when she won the Newbery even though I had not yet read Merci Suárez Changes Gears. It couldn't have happened to a better author. Now that I have read the book, I know it won on its merits.

Merci is a 6th grader at a private school in southern Florida. Unlike the majority of her classmates, Merci doesn't take fancy vacations or have a big house or own a boat or two. She is a scholarship student. Her family is hard-working, but definitely not rich. Merci works hard and is smart, but knows she doesn't compare to her older brother in the genius department. Merci loves to play soccer, spend time with her Lolo, and paint for her family's business. Her life suddenly has a lot of confusing changes as she starts 6th grade, has to take on some community service she is disinterested in, and has family drama she doesn't quite understand.

Merci is an excellent character. She is the perfect book version of a 6th grader. She is so perfect it was easy to lose sight of the fact that she was a book character. She makes some poor decisions, acts on impulse, doesn't see herself or others clearly, avoids some responsibilities, and feels things strongly. There are points in the book when she's not necessarily likable, but there was never a point when I wasn't completely on her side. Even when she was being her most dramatic or petty, I understood her motivations and emotions so well. And my anger was directed at the people who were causing her emotions. I can only imagine how much more invested in her life reader's in the target audience will be. I loved how Merci's problems were so fully relatable too. Middle school is a time of massive transition for everyone. Friendships shift as do adult expectations of you. It is often sudden and doesn't take into consideration all the hormonal shifts happening at the same time. Medina uses this to showcase Merci's struggles not only with school changes but also at home. Her brother is a senior, so he will be leaving soon. Her grandfather is acting strange: forgetting things, wandering off, and falling more. All the adults in Merci's family are worried and stressed, which is, of course, affecting Merci too. Especially as no one is explaining anything to her.

What really sets this novel apart is the community aspect of it. Merci is always in a tight community. Her school community is small, and there is quite a bit of forced (and natural) camaraderie there. Her family is her most important community though. Merci lives in a house next to her grandparents' house which is next to the house of her Tía and two young cousins. As she says toward the end, she lives in her house but the rest is sort of flexible. There is no knocking. The food in one house is food for everyone. The closeness of the family is shown in all of its hard moments and its wonderful, strong ones.

The school part of the book was particularly strong for me. As a teacher, I could actually see all these kids as real people who I could see interacting in the ways kids actually act. A lot of contemporary MG books dealing with realistic elements in schools have an almost after school special feel about them. Like the adults writing them are seeing kids' interactions through the long lens of their memories and not seeing them as they are now. Medina gets the way kids actually interact and all the layers of and webs of their social interactions. It isn't simple. Sixth grade is a time when for various reasons friendships undergo a major shift. Often it isn't so clear cut and simple as, "this person was my friend and now they'r not". Merci is trying to fit in, to find her place at this school she's already been at a year. The shifting dynamics everyone is undergoing makes that more of a challenge. Medina faces the complexities of MG social interactions head on with realism and true heart.

I will be enthusiastically recommending Merci Suarez Changes Gears to all my students.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews109 followers
September 6, 2018
Eleven-year-old Cuban American Merci Suárez lives in the Palm Beach area of Florida with her parents, and her very smart brother Roli, 17. Right next to them live their Abuela and Abuelo, called Lolo, and right next to them lives Tia Inéz, with her young twins, Axel and Tomás. The three identical houses are affectionately called Las Casitas by Merci's mother.

Roli and Merci are scholarship students at a private school. Since their dad and Lolo are painters, some of their tuition is paid for in work they do at the school. Because Roli is so smart, he's pretty much left alone, but sixth-grader Merci is required to do some community service in school, and so she is assigned to the Sunshine Buddies Club. It's her job to be a mentor to Michael Clark, a new kid in school who has just moved to Florida from Minnesota. Naturally, Merci's nemesis, rich mean girl Edna Santos, really likes Michael and does everything she can think of to make it difficult for Merci to be a buddy to him. That isn't hard, since Merci doesn't want to be his buddy anyway. What Merci does want is to make some money for a new bike and to tryout for the school's soccer team.

Unfortunately, neither one seem to be possible for her. She has to watch the twins after school while Tia Inéz goes to work, for free, because as Merci says "When it comes to helping, the motto around here is family or bust." On top of that, her beloved Lolo has been acting oddly lately and getting very forgetful, and no one in the family will answer any of Merci's questions about it. Family policy is to always be truthful and honest with each other, with no secrets, but that is definitely not the case here and Merci is scared for Lolo, especially when she's asked by him not to mention anything that might happen when they are together - like a fall from his bike.

Medina has written what I thought was a real-true-to-life coming of age story. Merci is at a transitional age, no longer a child, but not yet a teen, yet she has a lot to grapple with in this novel. She finds middle school difficult, with more intense homework and the pressure to keep up her grades as a scholarship student, and it seems that everyone around her changed over the summer vacation, except her. Now they are interested in boys, and Merci still wants to play soccer and ride her bike.

But Merci also has a close-knit family who do what they can to support each other, even if money is tight and some things don't come easy. And it's a good thing, because they are going to need all the love and support a family can give in the future.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a wonderfully realistic novel about the complications of preteen life and learning to come to grips with the fact that sometimes life just isn't fair and being in middle school doesn't help.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Candlewick Press
Profile Image for Monica Edinger.
Author 6 books338 followers
April 26, 2018
Lovely spot-on middle grade featuring a close extended Cuban-American family, a realistic middle school, and a warm story. Merci is a delightful character to spend time with along with her friends and family.
Profile Image for Cande.
1,041 reviews181 followers
December 18, 2020
Merci is not exactly thrilled to go back to school where she feels like an outsider. To make matters worse, she’s assigned to be Sunshine-Buddy to the new boy in her grade, the one her worst enemy has a crush on. Between juggling fights and jealousy at school, Merci also struggles at home where her dear abuelo has not been doing very great.

I knew this book was going to be a hard read. Merci’s grandfather is diagnosed with Alzheimer and the slow progression of his illness is very painful to read. Mostly, I was just terrified that this story would be too real, too painful. Because I know how it feels to lose hope, to be caught in that moment when there is nothing else to do. But this is a story full of love; making new friends, daughter-father moments, sibling bonds, and of course, between a grandfather and his granddaughter. It is a bittersweet story, tender, and also hopeful. Yes, hopeful. Because Merci is not alone, you are not alone.

Meg Medina is a wonderful, crafty author that understands the heartbreak, but also the importance of every small moment that makes you laugh again, opening the possibility that maybe everything will be okay at the end.

I highly recommend Merci Suarez Changes Gears, this is a wonderful middle-grade novel that it will make your heart hurt.

Read more about my favorite Messy Girls With Big Hearts on my blog, Latinx Magic
Profile Image for Brittany.
940 reviews3 followers
February 15, 2020
Reviewed for School Library Journal (issue 2018-12-01):


Gr 4–7—Eleven-year-old Merci Suárez is starting sixth grade and everything is changing. Not only do upper graders have to switch teachers throughout the day, but playing sports, like Merci loves to do, is seen as babyish and befriending boys is taboo. So when Merci is assigned to show new kid Michael Clark around as part of her scholarship package at Seaward Pines Academy, it's a problem. Especially when the richest, smartest, most popular girl in school, Edna, who gets to write the sixth grade's social rules and break them, too, seems to like Michael. Meanwhile, at home, Merci has to watch over her little twin cousins who live close by at Las Casitas, a row of houses belonging to Mami and Papi; Abuela and Lolo; and Tia, for free, so trying out for the school's soccer team and earning money to buy her dream bike is almost impossible. What's worse, Merci can't even talk to her beloved Lolo about all her problems like she used to as he starts acting less and less like himself. The realistic portrayal of a complex young Latina's life is one many readers will relate to as she discovers that change can be hard, but it's the ride that matters.
VERDICT Pura Belpré—winning author Medina cruises into readers' hearts with this luminous middle grade novel. A winning addition to any library's shelves.
Profile Image for Laura.
2,770 reviews83 followers
September 12, 2018
There is something about middle school books and mean girls that just go together. And this book is no exception. But Merci is more than just another protagonist, fighting the good fight against the mean girls of the world. She is also a Cuban-American, who is living with her extended family in Florida, with her beloved grandparents, aunt, and twin cousins.

I love how tight she is with her family, that she cares about them. That she wants to do right by them, despite not liking watching the twins all the time. She is proud of her grandmother who can sew anything, and often does. She loves her father's painting company, and is not ashamed of him for doing manual labor, while all her classmates' parents are doctors and lawyers and business executives.

Merci is a down to earth girl, and you feel her problems and she is very real.

And although there are Spanish words sprinkled throughout, they are always used in context, so you can usually figure out what she is talking about.

And excellent read, and a good for inclusion, for children to see themselves in Merci.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,711 reviews295 followers
September 5, 2022
I am still enjoying my mini-project to read all the Newbery Award winners of the 21st century. These are books for middle grade readers, 8-12. So far they have all been quick reads and great stories.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears won in 2019 and features a 6th grade Latina girl attending Seaward Pines Academy on scholarship in Florida. Like any 6th grader, she is thrown in with many kids she does not know well because now they change classrooms for separate subjects. I remember that!

Her lower socio-economic status and her family make her different so she struggles to fit in and make friends. The most popular girl is toxic (aren't they usually?) but Merci is determined to be accepted.

In addition, her beloved grandfather, who lives in the family compound, is falling into dementia. She does not understand what is going on with him and no one will talk about it.

The story has tons of heart and humor. Merci is a heroine worthy of a Judy Blume novel, while her story is set in the truths of our increasingly immigrant filled society.
Profile Image for steph .
1,232 reviews74 followers
February 10, 2019
This book has been on my radar for awhile. In fact I even checked it out a few months ago and then returned it to the library unread, three weeks later because I never got around to reading it. But when I heard it won the 2019 Newberry Award, I knew I had to make more of an effort to read it. And so I decided to listen to the audiobook on my weekly commute into work.

First things first, I love Merci and her family. Merci is such a relateable girl, from her worries about her grandfather to her dealings with the kids at school to her relationship with her brother and cousins. I really enjoyed her thought process and the way she relates to things. The secondary characters in here are great and I especially loved how involved all the adults are in this book. From her parents to her teachers to her aunt to her grandparents, etc. They all are shaping Merci into a person who is empathetic, kind and helpful. I really loved Merci’s close relationship with her grandfather, Lolo and their interactions together. The only thing I found annoying about this book, and why I knocked it down a star was the fact that

I also liked Merci’s interactions with the mean/popular girl of the 6th grade, Edna. Edna wasn’t a spoiled one dimensional caricature, instead she was shown to be just as real and relateable as Merci is which is not something all authors can do in writing a character such as herself. I would actually love to read a sequel to this book set when the kids are all in high school because I believe that one day Merci and Edna might actually be friends, if both are willing to see past the exterior of the other. And also because I need to see if Michael Clark grows any taller.

****I listened to the audiobook performed by Frankie Corzo and it really added to my enjoyment of this novel. I am assuming she is a native Spanish speaker because her pronunciation and easy flow from Spanish-English and vice versa was really well done. I could imagine all the different characters in my mind through each scene as she spoke which is the mark of a good narrator. I would definitely listen to more audiobooks by her.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,559 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.