Merci Suarez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes:  Middle School, Friendship, Family, Love, Alzheimer’s, Latino, Dance

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina’s much anticipated sequel is a heartwarming and compelling novel that tackles big topics for Merci Suárez, who is now a seventh grade student at Seward Pines Academy. Medina’s narrative is engaging and immersive.  Her plot is classic middle grade tension and  — losing a BFF to a more popular crowd; a mean, rich-girl bully; racism; and the differences in culture and social status.  

Merci’s adventures in school paint a clear picture of a curious and resilient 12-year-old trying to make sense of who she is. She’s smart, has a good business head and is a talented photographer. She worries about her looks, is conscious about her changing body and dreads PE shower rooms. She can’t dance and doesn’t want to go to the big school dance.  She finds boy-girl relationships confusing. Is it scary or nice? She wants to know about holding a boy’s hand, kissing for the first time, dating, and breaking up. Medina also includes a very diverse cast of memorable characters: Edna who’s from the Dominican Republic, and Wilson who’s Louisiana Creole and Cajun, is differently-abled and wears a short ankle brace to straighten his leg when he walks. Merci’s friendship with Wilson, a math whiz, may mean a little more to her.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy, yet filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three homes where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. Papi runs a painting business. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare responsibilities, and support each other, even if money is tight. There is a lot of chaos at all times. Merci is often in charge of keeping an eye on her grandfather (Lolo), whose Alzheimer’s is rapidly progressing and babysitting her aunt’s active twin boys. And they all answer the call to help Tía Inez, when she decides to open a school of Latin dance.

Medina dedicates her book to “Merci fans who wanted to know what happened next.”  And fans will cheer for Merci, enjoy watching her grow and hope that Medina continues her story. Merci Suárez is a humorous and satisfying read.  

Check out the Teacher’s Guide, published by Candlewick Press.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which was also a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist.  Her YA novels Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won a 2014 Pura Belpre Author Award; Burn Baby Burn, which was long-listed for the National Book Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina at her website.

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*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.