Book Review: Merci Suárez Changes Gear

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The Newbery winners are always interesting, well-written books. But, let’s face it. Some of them aren’t the type of book you’d choose to read during your last week of summer vacation.

This year’s winner–Merci Suárez Changes Gear by Meg Medina–is an exception. It’s a heart-warming and funny coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.

The story begins on Merci’s first day of sixth grade at Seaward Pines Academy, a fancy private school she attends on a scholarship. The new school year brings a lot of unwelcome changes for Merci. She misses her fifth grade homeroom teacher, she wishes she could still play sports with the boys during recess, and she feels like she’ll never figure out how to get along with Edna, the most popular girl in her class.

Things are changing at home too, where Merci lives with her extended family in three neighboring houses they call Las Casitas. Her older brother is learning to drive and applying to colleges. Merci is asked to take more responsibility for her younger twin nephews. Most importantly, her grandfather, Lolo, who has always been her companion and confidant, seems unusually forgetful lately and sometimes gets angry for no reason. Merci is worried, but no one will tell her what’s wrong.

The story alternates between Merci’s life at school and her life at home during the first half of her sixth grade year, and both parts are equally engaging. My favorite scene is one in which Merci and her classmates make a mummy for their Great Tomb Project in social studies class. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it will make you wince and giggle.

If you just have time to read one more book this summer, I recommend this one.

 

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Book Review: The Giver

8309278I don’t know why it took me twenty-five years to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. It’s so good.

It’s the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in what seems like a utopian community. At the Ceremony of Twelve, when his classmates are given their Assignments, roles like Birthmother, Instructor, or Laborer, Jonas is not assigned. Instead, he is selected at the next Receiver of Memory and is apprenticed to a man who calls himself The Giver. As he learns his new role, he begins to understand that when his community suppressed its bad memories (war, poverty, pain), it also gave up good memories (color, music, strong emotion)

The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994, and I’ve picked it up in the bookstore or library many times since then (including when the movie version came out in 2014). It was Larrabee who finally prompted me to read it, though. His teacher recommended it, and he decided he needed to read since it has also been suggested by someone at camp last summer. So maybe it’s one of those books that needs multiple recommendations. If so, let this blog post be the one that pushes you over the edge. It’s the type of story that will linger in your thoughts.

The other books in The Giver Quartet are Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but they are companion books rather than sequels to Jonas’s story. Larrabee has enjoyed the second and third books. We also enjoyed the movie, although it’s no substitute for the book in this case.

Book Review: Flora & Ulysses

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 9.52.27 AMFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is the story of Flora, a comic book reader and natural-born cynic, and Ulysses, a squirrel with superpowers as a result of a close encounter with a vacuum cleaner.

If that sounds wacky, it is. Delightfully wacky. It’s a quick and funny read told from the point of view of both girl and squirrel, and it includes comic-style illustrations by K. G. Campbell. It’s also a touching meditation on loneliness, hope, and love. Larrabee and I both liked it a lot.

This book won the Newbery Medal in 2014. As Flora would say, “Holy bagumba! Holy unanticipated occurrences!”

Book Review: When You Reach Me

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 10.28.13 AMI’ve had Rebecca Stead‘s When You Reach Me on my TBR list for a long time. It won the Newbery Medal in 2010. It comes highly recommended by several friends. It involves time travel, which I love…

I don’t know why I waited. It’s a quick read and a very cool book.

It’s set in New York City in the late 1970s. Miranda, a sixth grader, lives with her mother. One day she finds a mysterious note stuck in her library book. It asks her to write a letter and to mention the location of her hidden house key: It says: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own… The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”

If you’ve just reread A Wrinkle in Time before seeing the new movie adaptation, you should add this book to your TBR pile too.