Newbery Verdict: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

20210522ma_1155Book: Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018)
Author: Meg Medina
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2019)

Opening Lines of the Book…
To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard. Now, I’m here in Mr. Patchett’s class, sweating in my polyester school blazer and waiting for this torture to be over.

MY THOUGHTS…

Merci Suárez is having trouble at school. She doesn’t want to be a Sunshine Buddy to some new boy from Minnesota. And she has to deal the Queen Bee of her class, Edna. Merci struggles with being ostracized but eventually finds her own tribe. One of the best scenes has to do with a mummy, Edna, and a pair of scissors. (Totally reminded me of a very memorable happening in a movie my sister and I loved as children: The Trouble with Angels (1966). If you know the movie, you will know what I’m talking about!)

And then there’s trouble at home. Lolo, Merci’s beloved grandfather, is acting weird… forgetful. He refuses to come to Grands’ Day at school, and poor Merci has no clue why. Of course, as an adult, we can deduce that it’s some form of dementia. (No surprise when it turns out to be Alzheimer’s Disease; although, this IS a surprise to Merci.) I did love her connection to Lolo. There’s one particularly scary moment when Merci can’t find her grandfather on the beach but does find one of his shoes lying in the sand! Ay-ay-ay!

What I didn’t get is WHY the family thought it a good idea to keep the diagnosis from Merci. It’s not like she couldn’t see that her grandfather was acting weird. (I didn’t quite buy that part of the book.)

I also loved Merci’s big extended family. She lives in one of three little houses with her own family, her grandparents, and her aunt and twin cousins. I did like her older brother, Roli. He’s super-smart but also a super-slow-driving brother. As he learns to drive, it’s his job to get them to school. But Merci always seems to be late because Roli drives like an old man!

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it won the Newbery back in 2019. I’ve taken it out of the library on at least 2-3 separate occasions only to return it before I could actually read it. But finally, I was able to get to this book. And I’m glad I did. Now, I’m looking forward to reading the next Merci Suárez adventure!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger

20210218ma_0325

Book: When You Trap a Tiger (2020)
Author: Tae Keller
Publisher: Random House
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2021)

Opening Lines of the Book…
“I can turn invisible. It’s a superpower, or at least a secret power. But it’s not like in the movies, and I’m not a superhero, so don’t start thing that. Heroes are the stars who save the day. I justdisappear.”

MY THOUGHTS…

This book won the Newbery this year (2021). I was pretty excited when it was announced since I had the book sitting on my nightstand! I was ready to dive right in.

This is a story about a shy, quiet girl named Lily. She and her mother and sister come to live with their Korean grandmother (Halmoni). Halmoni has always had a special bond with the girls, regaling them with stories from Korean folklore about a tiger that walks around like a man. But Lily soon discovers that something’s wrong with her usually-so-vibrant Halmoni. She confides to Lily that she has stolen the stories and now the tiger wants them back. When Lily starts seeing the tiger, she knows she has to do something to trap it to save the life of her beloved grandmother.

Okay, first off, I like imagination in books. This book, however, crossed a line for my suspension of disbelief. I like the idea, but the tiger conversations bothered me. (Maybe it was my adult-brain kicking in!) I found Lily’s conversations with the tiger slightly worrisome. I know it was all metaphorical, and I liked that to a certain extent. I liked how it connected to the grandmother’s stories. And I even liked reading the stories the tiger tells (I found them very interesting). But the whole thing made me concerned for Lily’s mental health. Maybe it was supposed to be magical realism? If it was, it just felt off to me.

And yet, I loved how Lily and her new friend (the boy she meets at the library) work together to do something to try to help the grandmother (i.e. trapping the tiger). And how the whole grandmother plot unfolds is very compelling and engaging with some wonderful emotional beats.

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

Ultimately, I will say that I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like all the Korean folklore stories, but the parts about the tiger did bother me enough. (And I really did not like the sister.) While I liked this book, I didn’t love it. Now, I haven’t read all the Newbery contenders for the year, but I did read We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. Personally, I would have voted for that book over this one.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy // by Sid Fleischman (1986)

TheWhippingBoyNewbery Winner (1987)
Genre: MG, Fantasy/Classic
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: When Prince Brat decides to run away, he takes Jemmy (his whipping boy) with him, only to be captured by two ruffians. Jemmy keeps his head and, in order to rescue the prince, arranges to swap places with him. But Prince Brat is so bratty and self-focused that he doesn’t catch onto Jemmy’s plan… which leads to complications and danger.

MY THOUGHTS…

Wow! Just, wow! I read this book in a single sitting and boy, was it powerful. I love Jemmy and his quick-witted brain. As for Prince Brat, I was ready to throttle him over the head several times. He truly is such a despicable character until… well, until he isn’t. I love his transformation!

The humour is spot-on. The chapter titles are fun. The character names are just perfect. It’s a simple story that is truly delightful. Really, I don’t often gush about a book, but I’m gushing about this one!

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book won the Newbery back in 1987. Did it deserve it? Absolutely!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Quick Pick Reviews #11

Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick // by Jennifer L. Holm

eighth-grade-making-me-sickGenre: MG, Contemporary (2012)

My Thoughts: This is the sequel to Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf. The subtitle pretty much sums up the style of this book: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff. And it’s surprising how much plot we get from just reading report cards, notes from mom, bank statements, etc. This book picks up where the last one left off and Ginny’s life proves to be as interesting as ever.

I will say that the title of this book is actually quite plot relevant (as opposed to the Meatloaf title; I don’t remember meatloaf factoring into the plot of the first book.) [4 Stars]


Baby-Sitting is a Dangerous Job // by Willo Davis Roberts

baby-sitting-dangerous-jobGenre: MG, Contemporary (1985)

My Thoughts: A cute book about a teen named Darcy who gets a baby-sitting job for a family known to have three, rambunctious kids. That’s how she ends up being kidnapped along with the children. I like how she and the children bond and work together.

Is the book realistic? Not really, but it’s fairly entertaining. I do love the cover on this re-release. (I’ve seen the original 1980’s cover and, well, this one is so much better. Although I’m not exactly sure what the tree house has to do with the plot!) [3 Stars]


Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Review: Not If I Save You First

Book: Not If I Save You First
Author: Ally Carter
Genre: YA, Contemporary/Thriller
Rating: 3.5 Stars

not-if-i-save-you-firstBasic Plot: Maddie and Logan are best friends. He’s the son of the President of the United States. She’s the daughter of the head of the Secret Service. Then, all of a sudden, Maddie and her dad move to Alaska, with no access to the outside world. Maddie writes letters to Logan, but he never responds. Then, six years later, he shows up in Alaska. Maddie is furious with him. But then he gets kidnapped, and she realizes that it’s up to her to save him.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The setting in Alaska. And while there IS snow, that’s not really why it’s cool. They’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere… a world so different from our own. (Unless, you happen to be reading this in an isolated cabin Alaska. But then, why do you have internet? Maddie doesn’t. UNLESS, you’re a spy with some fancy satellite connection. Then, if that’s you, why are you reading this blog?)

2) I really liked the opening chapters that are set at the White House. I love the juxtaposition between the “two lives” that Maddie has led. The one in DC versus the one in the middle of nowhere, Alaska.

3) Each chapter opens with one of the letters Maddie has written to Logan over the past six years. At first, this seems like just a neat way to show how Maddie has spent the lonely hours in the wilderness. However, as it turns out, those letters do prove to be plot-important.

4) Stefan makes for an interesting “bad guy”. He had some good points about him. But there were also some not-so-good points. (See What’s Not Cool)

5) The final phrase of the book gives us the context of the book’s title. (But don’t read it ahead of time!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Re: Stefan. I didn’t understand why he lets Maddie and Logan talk so much after he’s kidnapped them. I kept thinking: “If I were Stefan, I wouldn’t let them do that.” I might have even gagged them. Maybe I’m a better kidnapper than Stefan? (Uh oh. That’s probably not a good thing.)

2) I felt the story got a tiny bit convoluted at the end.

3) People get shot throughout this book. Some of these same people don’t die. I find that pretty amazing… and kind of… unbelievable? Not that I WANT them to die. It’s just pushing my suspension of disbelief…

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

This quote comes at a time when Maddie is showing Logan how to start a fire in the middle of nowhere. (Note: Mad Dog is her father’s nickname for her. Logan also uses this nickname from time to time.)

“I told you, Mad Dog,” he said at last. He made himself meet her gaze. “I remember everything I read.”

(Chapter 20)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I did like this book. I felt engaged pretty much from the outset. I liked the letters and thought they tied the book together quite nicely. It’s just a little convoluted at the end. (But for the ending, it would have gotten 4 stars.)


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!