Merci and Her Changes – A Practice Discussion
In Monday’s post, Roxanne outlined the Discussion Procedures that will be followed when we discuss the 18 titles on the Heavy Medal Mock List, starting in January. Today, we’ll do another practice discussion following those same procedures, using a book that received six nominations from Heavy Medal readers, but did not make our final list of 18. I will introduce this one; once our actual discussion starts in January, we will assign members of the Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC) to introduce specific titles:
Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
This is kind of a sprawling novel, with a large cast of characters and several related plot threads…but in the best ways. It all comes together because Merci is such an engaging and interesting character. Her seventh grade problems are fairly typical: a mean girl, a cute new boy, missing soccer tryouts, etc. But as told through her honest, energetic, and heartfelt (but never preachy) narration, they matter a lot.
Medina captures Merci’s family life with insight and subtlety. Language and cultural elements are evident, but don’t overwhelm the story. It’s the distinct personalities of her relatives and the ways they interact that really shine. Her family is strong and supportive, but they also fight and bicker and irritate each other, like so many close-knit families really do. The family dynamics impact her challenges at school too. As Papi says: “You have to show everyone here every day that they did the right thing accepting you. You have to act like a serious girl.” (p 174).
The ways Merci “changes gears” over the few months of the novel are meaningful and convincing. She’s probably still going to bend the rules, and she likely won’t be friends with Edna, but she has a stronger sense of herself and some fuller understanding of others. The most serious plot element, Lolo’s struggles with Alzheimer’s, steadily develops alongside the other events. His condition isn’t going away, but Merci’s gift to Lolo at the end shows that she’s coming to terms with it, and, typically, will still be creative and insist on trying to make things better. This is a rich and engaging story, artfully constructed around a memorable and highly appealing character.
As outlined in the Discussion Procedures, let’s start with some positive feedback about MERCI from HMAC and from any other Heavy Medal readers who want to chime in.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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