Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

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Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina (9780763690502)

This sequel to the Newbery Award winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears continues the story of Merci, her large multigenerational family, and the difficulties of being a seventh grader. This year, Merci has been assigned to manage the small school store along with Wilson, a boy who is amazing at math. As the two reinvent what their school store can be, adding movie merchandise, they end up also being drawn into selling tickets for the Heart Ball, run by Edna, who has managed to become even bossier than usual. Merci has decided not to go to the dance, but is asked to take photographs and agrees as long as she doesn’t even have to enter the gym. When an accident happens, Merci makes a bad decision and covers up the damage, setting off a series of lies that will involve school and family. With no one to talk to, since her grandfather’s dementia is worsening, Merci has to figure out who to trust to help her.

Fans returning to reconnect with Merci will once again find Medina’s rich depiction of Merci’s extended family, her grandfather’s worsening mental abilities, and the gorgeous warmth and love that keeps them all connected. Medina put Merci in quite a horrible situation in this second novel, where she feels alone and unable to be honest. Medina writes it with such empathy and skill that it is almost painful to read, though that makes the resolution all the more marvelous to experience.

As always, Medina’s writing is skillful and detailed. She truly creates a middle school experience with burgeoning romantic feelings and the changes happening between long-time best friends. Medina doesn’t let this all be negative, instead focusing on the confusion but also on the deeper understanding that can result from going through strange middle school circumstances.

Another marvelous Merci novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone (9781984816436)

Molly is beyond tired of the dress coding that is happening at her middle school. It’s a dress code that unfairly targets only the girls and then only some of the girls. Molly isn’t the most developed girl in her class, so she often isn’t dress coded though she’s wearing the same outfit as a friend who is. So Molly starts a podcast about the dress code at her school and how inequitable it is. She interviews girls about their experiences, catching the notice of even high school girls who want to share their own middle school stories. Molly also tries to get the attention of the school board, but their petition and requests go nowhere. Soon Molly is leading a significant rebellion at the school, finding her own voice, standing in her power, and not apologizing for what she wears.

It is hard to believe that this is a debut middle-grade novel. Firestone, the author of several young adult novels, really captures what it is to be a middle school girl. The pressures of that age are magnified in this book through the horrible dress code, but are also firmly universal, dealing with body image, periods, friendships, and complicated family relationships. Firestone’s writing is fiery and offers a call to action, positively showing what can happen when you stand up.

The characters of this book are wonderfully drawn with each friend and girl having their own personalities. They each stand out with a unique voice as well, something that is difficult with this large a cast of characters. Molly herself is marvelous, a mix of courage and middle school doubts and fears. The book contains gay characters, who reveal themselves with no trauma and lots of hope, just right.

A dynamo of a middle-grade read that will inspire girls to become activists for their own rights. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Putnam.