Merci Suarez Changes Gears – A Novel Packed with Power
There is no surprise that Meg Medina won the Newberry Medal for her most recent middle grade novel, Merci Suarez Changes Gears. The novel explores school bullying, enlightens the reader to rich Latino culture, touches on socioeconomic stressors the trickle down to children, and details the effects that Alzheimers dementia can have on a family.
Merci Suarez starts her sixth grade year at a private school in Florida. She and her brother, Rolo, are on scholarship to the elite school and this carries extra pressure to maintain good grades and manners in a wealthy school community. Merci is full of spunk and independence that sparks conflict between Merci and the popular girl, Edna. In a fit of jealousy, Edna attacks Merci’s physical appearance due to her eye that turns-in at the most inopportune times. Merci perseveres and finds her strength as she realizes that being popular on the outside means nothing if you’re mean and cold on the inside. Edna loses her popularity as her true self is revealed.
The heart of this novel is Merci’s home life and challenges. Merci lives next door to her grandfather (abuelo) and grandmother (abuela), as well as her aunt (tia) and cousins. Latino culture is sprinkled throughout the novel with excellent context clues to learn the Spanish terminology. I loved the descriptions of Merci’s home, foods, and daily interactions, and I learned a little Spanish along the way!
Merci notices her grandfather is acting strange. He falls off his bike, he calls her by another name, and gets confused.
Merci’s abuelo has Alzheimer dementia. The family struggles to keep him safe and surround him with love and support as he battles his own anger and frustration with his diagnosis. The story has great depth as we see the family worry and feel helpless to alter abuelo’s disease. They fight their anger and guilt as abuelo’s poor decisions and mistakes place him in harm’s way. Merci and her grandfather have always been close, and the family shields her from his diagnosis until the point it can’t be hidden any longer.
Merci’s anger at her family for hiding his dementia and her sadness for the loss of their past relationship fills the emotional text. Her reverence for her abuelo turns to occasional embarrassment when she brings over her friends, and she worries that her grandfather may say something wrong in his confusion. She mourns the loss of the abuelo that she played and explored with for years, and she fears what is to come.
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina is filled with heart, culture, and true emotional connections as a family struggles with dementia. As a physician and author, the feelings of sadness, guilt, anger are realistic as a family lives with dementia. It is a must-read novel for any age.
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Please peruse my website patmccawauthor.com and don’t forget to check out my children’s middle grade novel with the adventures of Rosie, Lucy, and Nathan in their quest to save the hidden world of Grymballia in Rosie’s backyard forest. The first two novels in the trilogy are available on Amazon or by emailing me directly (I have copies at home that I would be happy to sign and send your way!) If you’ve read them already – THANK YOU! – and please leave a review on Amazon.