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Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that define middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.
1. Merci is dealing with a lot of change. One of her biggest struggles is the transition from elementary school to middle school. What are some of the problems this change causes? How does Merci deal with them? What are some examples of struggles you’ve faced in school as you’ve grown up?
2. Merci is often told that she asks too many questions. Do you think someone can ask too many questions? What does Merci’s questioning tell us about her character?
3. Merci has been on both sides of the Sunshine Buddies program, which helps new students get used to their new school. Do you believe this group helped Merci? Did it help Michael? What do you think students need when they start at a new school? What are some ways the Sunshine Buddies system could be revamped to better help new students?
4. Throughout the book, Merci is asked to work in pairs or collaborative groups for school activities. What are the positives and negatives of working with others at school? Use specific examples from the text to support your statements.
5. At the movies, Merci shows everyone her bitmoji decked out with swag from her favorite movie. If you were to create a bitmoji for each of the characters in the novel, what would each one wear, and what accessories would it have? What would your bitmoji look like? Explain your choices.
6. Merci learns that everyone in her family knew of Lolo’s Alzheimer’s but kept it from her. Why did her family choose not to tell her? Do you believe they should have let her know earlier? Why?
7. Roli gets into his first-choice college and even receives a scholarship to attend. But when he first tells Merci, his reaction isn’t particularly celebratory. Why wasn’t Roli as happy at that moment as one might expect?
8. Merci has one career goal: to run her father’s business, Sol Painting. What steps is she already taking to prepare for it? What are some things she says that show how serious she is about this goal? Her family doesn’t necessarily want Sol Painting to be Merci’s career, even though they are proud of it. Why wouldn’t they want her to run the family business when she is older? What are some ways her family tries to dissuade her from this dream?
9. How does Merci’s not being able to try out for soccer change the trajectory of the plot? Where do you think it would have headed if she had been able to try out?
10. Merci attends a private school that asks its families to donate to fundraisers in addition to paying tuition. How are fundraisers at any school a tough situation for students who have families that struggle economically?
11. Both Edna and Merci are required to write apology letters. Why would Miss McDaniels require letters instead of other forms of apology? What are the pros of letter writing?
12. We meet many adults at Merci’s school throughout the book, including Ms. Tannenbaum, who strives to make education and school special. Other than Ms. Tannenbaum, which adult at school makes the biggest difference in Merci’s life? Give examples to support your answer. What teachers or adults have made education and school special for you?
13. Assumptions people make based on income and appearance are mentioned several times in the novel (for example, on pages 143–44 and 230). Merci’s parents frequently remind her that she must be perceived as a responsible and serious member of society and her school, such as on pages 5 and 174. How might society and particularly people at her school perceive Merci’s family, and how does that perception compare to the reality that you know after reading the story?
14. Edna seems to have it all, but in the end readers can deduce why she doesn’t like Merci. Using evidence from the book, explain why you believe that Edna bullies Merci.
15. Lolo’s diagnosis is hard for Merci and Lolo, and it affects the entire family. Have students discuss how life will change for Merci’s family in the future.
16. How does the author’s choice of writing the story from a first-person point of view affect our knowledge of the story and Merci? If it had been written in third person, limited or omniscient, how would the story have been different?