Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Do you have a favorite last line from a book? I usually think about my favorite leads, or first lines, in books. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than when Fern asked her mother “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” to open Charlotte’s Web. How could you not keep reading after that, because you just have to know where Papa is going and what he’s going to do with that axe! But, I shared two closing paragraphs from some nonfiction I’d read recently last week, and today’s recommendation, Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina has another incredible closing line. The kind of finality that sticks with you after you close the book. One that makes you think and makes you want to return to the book again and again.

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To wrap up Merci Suárez, Medina writes, “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.”

So profound! And from a middle grade novel, aimed at middle grade readers… Yet, this reminder is so appropriate for readers of all ages! It might even be especially appropriate for adults, especially this year, in 2020, when we’ve all been hit with the unexpected and no one has any clue what’s happening next.

Just in case that beautiful closing line didn’t make you want to read Merci Suárez Changes Gears, let me tell you a little more about it, because I think it’s a must-read for every family along the way!

Merci is an 11-year-old girl in sixth grade at a very fancy private school in Florida… But, she’s not your typical private school student. She doesn’t live in a fancy house, ride in a fancy car, or have a ton of free time to socialize. Rather, she lives in a multi-generational “compound” with her Cuban-American extended family. And, she’s in middle school… Medina beautifully takes Merci on the roller coaster of much that girls deal with in middle school, from the girl who starts most of her comments with “no offense” to blossoming crushes on members of the opposite sex. On top of all of that, Merci’s big wishes for the year are to make the soccer team and earn enough money to buy a new bike, but she has time for neither… Instead, she has to take care of her twin cousins, be a model student to prove that she deserves her spot at this fancy school (and walk in her big brother’s footsteps), and help out more around the house and with her father’s painting business, because her beloved grandfather, Lolo, her closest companion and confidante, is sick, showing early stages of Alzheimer’s…

Medina has given us much to love (there’s a reason this book won a Newbery Medal!), but my favorite thing about Merci Suárez is the close-knit extended family that surrounds Merci. I love how steeped they are in their Cuban traditions (especially reading about how they celebrate Christmas). And, Merci’s relationship with Lolo is bound to warm even the coldest hearts.

Merci Suárez is aimed at ages 8-12, but as always, you know your child best. Given the content around Lolo’s dementia, which is likely to raise questions from readers without personal experience with aging grandparents or family friends, I think this would be a lovely family read-aloud. Much of the book contains very age-appropriate conversations around girls and boys who have crushes on each other, so I’ll wait till my girls are closer to middle school to explore those middle school topics with them, but I’m already excited for the day when I get to share Merci, Lolo, and their adventures and relationship with them!

What are your favorite first or last lines from a book?

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