So far, sixth grade is turning out to be not such a great year for Merci.  A scholarship student at Seaward Pines Academy in Florida, she didn’t go on any fancy vacations over the summer like her classmates, instead hanging out at the beach with her family, practicing her soccer moves, and baby-sitting her wild twin cousins.  Bossy queen bee Edna is her same old self – using her weird ability to make everyone follow her lead to leave Merci behind.  None of the girls wants to play soccer anymore – too sweaty, and their hair might get messed up.  And Miss McDaniels in the office has signed Merci up for the Sunshine Buddies, a program for new kids at school to have someone to help them get settled – and paired her with a boy.  From Minnesota.  Who is as tall as a moose and pale as a vampire.  Even worse?  All of Edna’s opinions about Merci’s Sunshine Buddy.

On top of all of that school stuff, Lolo, Merci’s grandpa, who she can always count on to understand about things and help her feel better about being herself, is acting strangely – forgetting stuff, mixing up the twins, getting lost, and even falling off his bike on their weekly trip to her aunt’s bakery for Sunday dinner bread and cookies.  Merci is worried, but no one will tell her what’s going on.

At least she still has soccer games with Papi, and tryouts for the school team coming up, plus helping Papi and Lolo out with paint jobs on the weekend for their family business.  And she’s in Ms. Tannenbaum’s class this year, which means building an Egyptian tomb in the classroom, including a mummy.  But as stuff with Lolo gets more confusing – and scary – and Edna ramps up her anti-Merci agenda, sixth grade goes from bad to worse.  How is one kid supposed to deal with all this change she never even asked for in the first place?

I absolutely loved this year’s Newbery winner!  Merci Suárez Changes Gears is that fabulous middle grade novel that perfectly captures a year in transition.  Change is always hard, whether we choose it or not, and I loved cheering for Merci and her family as she starts to figure herself out.  With a marvelous sense of place, family worries, celebrations, fights, and plenty of love, and all the trials and rewards of beginning to discover who your true self and your true friends are, this is one I’d recommend for kid and adult readers alike.  Meg Medina has also written some stellar, award-winning, and super powerful YA fiction, so I’m happy to see she’s just as much of a powerhouse in the middle grade field.  Don’t miss this book, especially now that it has a shiny gold medal on the cover!