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Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

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!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista is a girl who isn’t sure where – or how – she belongs.  A twin and one half of her Dominican parents’ miracle, Xiomara is everything her devout mother is afraid of – full of questions, especially when it comes to faith, possessed of fierce fists she learned how to use a long time ago to protect her twin brother, and with a body she always feels takes up too much space, especially when boys and men are always calling attention to it.  She’s also a girl who loves words and loves to write, her most prized possession a journal her twin, Xavier, gave to her on her birthday.

When her new English teacher, Ms. Galiano, invites Xiomara to join her after-school slam poetry club, Xiomara knows she can’t go.  Confirmation class is at the same time, and there’s no way Mami will allow her to switch it up, even though Xiomara isn’t too sure she’s ready to be confirmed yet – she’s full of too many questions that no one seems to want to hear, much less answer.

But a friendship – and maybe more, although there’s no way Mami will allow her to date – with a boy in her bio class starts to change the ways Xiomara tries to fit in to her world.  Aman feels like the first person to really listen to her – listen, and not judge.  Listen, with respect.  Listen, and understand.  Listen, and give words back to her.  As Xiomara fills up the pages of her journal with poetry, she starts to move toward becoming a girl who can let her words out – and even be proud of them.  But when something happens that sends her words up in smoke, can she be brave enough to keep working her way toward herself?

This book has been on my radar for months, so, after it basically picked up All The Awards this year, I knew I had to take a break from my annual Harry Potter re-read and make some time for Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel.  And OH WOW am I glad I did.  Beautiful, compelling, heart-breaking, raw and emotional, and stunning in its expression of one girl’s truth, this has got to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.  Written in free verse, The Poet X is the story of Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school – the story of how one girl finds the words inside herself and uses them to set her true self free.

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Cyd definitely knows how to pick a great middle grade read – she totally called all the awards for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and she’s done it again by loving this book way before it was shortlisted for the National Book Award.  Read on to hear what she has to say about this great book!

One of my favorite fictional characters is Forrest Gump. I have never known anyone as honest, sincere and truly GOOD as Forrest, but I would love to meet someone like him one day.  In this book, The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle, I found Forrest Gump once again.

Meet Mason Buttle, an extremely large, extremely sweaty 7th grader.  Mason also happens to have a severe case of dyslexia and can be a little slow in understanding some things.  He does, however, know how to be a true friend. Loyal, honest and good-natured, Mason is a favorite target of bullying by the neighborhood boys. Grieving over the death of his best friend, Benny Kilmartin, who turned up dead in the Buttle family’s apple orchard, Mason has also been under a cloud of suspicion.  The lead investigator, Lt. Baird, is sure Mason is not being truthful about what he knows about Benny’s death.

There are two bright lights in Mason’s life – his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky and Moonie, his mean neighbor’s sweet dog.  When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in even deeper trouble. He HAS to find out what happened to Calvin…and Benny. Will anyone believe him?

Author Leslie Connor fills this story with intriguing and well developed characters – and many twists and turns as we are led through the back story following Mason’s conversations with the detective and his own journals entries he composes (using a speak-and-write computer program).

A 2018 National Book Award Finalist and Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2018 recipient, this book is a must read – don’t let the “Young Teen” classification dissuade you! I would love to have you to meet Mason Buttle.