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Merci Suárez Can't Dance

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Notes From Your Bookseller

In this endearing follow-up to Newbery Medal-winning Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Merci is put in charge of her school’s Heart Ball, but there is one big problem — she can’t dance! Merci Suarez Can’t Dance is a sweet and clever read about navigating all the ups and downs of middle school, family life and believing in yourself.

A Kirkus Reviews Most Anticipated Book of 2021
In Meg Medina’s follow-up to her Newbery Medal–winning novel, Merci takes on seventh grade, with all its travails of friendship, family, love—and finding your rhythm.

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 a 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.

ISBN-13: 9781536228151

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: 09-13-2022

Pages: 384

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)

Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

Series: Merci Suárez #2

Meg Medina, the 2023­­­­–2024 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is a Cuban American author who writes for readers of all ages. Her middle-grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears received a Newbery Medal and was a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year, among many other distinctions. Its sequel, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, received five starred reviews, while Merci Suárez Plays It Cool received four stars, with Kirkus Reviews calling it “a fabulous finale to a memorable trilogy.” Her most recent picture book, Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, received honors including a Charlotte Zolotow Award and was the 2020 Jumpstart Read for the Record selection, reaching 2.24 million readers. She received a Pura Belpré Author Award Honor for her picture book Mango, Abuela, and Me. Her young adult novel Burn Baby Burn earned numerous distinctions, including being long-listed for the National Book Award and short-listed for the Kirkus Prize. Meg Medina received a Pura Belpré Author Award and a Cybils Award for her young adult novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, which has been adapted and illustrated as a graphic novel by Mel Valentine Vargas. She also received an Ezra Jack Keats Writer Award for her picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car. When she is not writing, Meg Medina works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth, and literacy. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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.
We’re only halfway through ­health and PE when he adjusts his tight collar and says, “Time to go.”
I stand up and push in my chair, like we’re always supposed to, grateful that picture day means that class ends early. At least we won’t have to start reading the first chapter in the textbook: “I’m OK, You’re OK: On ­Differences as We ­Develop.”
“­Coming, Miss ­Suárez?” he asks me as he flips off the lights.
That’s when I realize I’m the only one still waiting for him to tell us to line up. ­Everyone else has already headed out the door.
This is sixth grade, so there won’t be one of the PTA moms walking us down to the photographer. Last year, our escort pumped us up by gushing the ­whole way about how handsome and beautiful we all looked on the first day of school, which was a stretch since a few of us had mouthfuls of braces or big gaps between our front teeth.
But that’s over now. Here at ­Seaward ­Pines ­Academy, sixth-graders don’t have the same teacher all day, like Miss ­Miller in the fifth grade. Now we have homerooms and lockers. We switch classes. We can finally try out for sports teams.
And we know how to get ourselves down to picture day just ­fine —​­ ​­or at least the rest of my class does. I grab my new book bag and hurry out to join the others.
It’s a wall of heat out here. It won’t be a far walk, but August in ­Florida is brutal, so it doesn’t take long for my glasses to fog up and the curls at my ­temples to spring into tight coils. I try my best to stick to the shade near the building, but it’s hopeless. The slate path that winds to the front of the gym cuts right across the quad, where there’s not a ­single scrawny palm tree to shield us. It makes me wish we had one of those ­thatch-​­roof walkways that my grandfather Lolo can build out of fronds.
“How do I look?” someone asks.
I dry my lenses on my shirttail and glance over. We’re all in the same uniform, but some of the girls got special hairdos for the occasion, I notice. A few were even ­flat-​­ironed; you can tell from the ­little burns on their necks. Too bad they don’t have some of my curls. Not that everyone appreciates them, of course. Last year, a kid named ­Dillon said I look like a lion, which was fine with me, since I love those big cats. Mami is always nagging me about keeping it out of my eyes, but she doesn’t know that hiding behind it is the best part. This morning, she slapped a ­school-​­issue headband on me. All it’s done so far is give me a headache and make my glasses sit crooked.
“Hey,” I say. “It’s a broiler out here. I know a shortcut.”
The girls stop in a glob and look at me. The path I’m pointing to is clearly marked with a sign.
Maintenance crews only.
No students beyond this point.
No one in this crowd is much for breaking ­rules, but sweat is already beading above their glossed lips, so maybe they’ll be ­sensible. They’re looking to one another, but mostly to Edna ­Santos.
“Come on, Edna,” I say, deciding to go straight to the top. “It’s faster, and we’re melting out here.”
She frowns at me, considering the options. She may be a teacher’s pet, but I’ve seen Edna bend a ­rule or two. ­Making faces outside our classroom if she’s on a bathroom pass. ­Changing an answer for a friend when we’re ­self-​­checking a quiz. How much worse can this be?
I take a step closer. Is she taller than me now? I pull back my shoulders just in case. She looks older somehow than she did in June, when we were in the same class. ­Maybe it’s the blush on her cheeks or the mascara that’s making ­little raccoon ­circles under her eyes? I try not to stare and just go for the big guns.
“You want to look sweaty in your picture?” I say.
­ Cha-​­ching.
In no time, I’m leading the pack of us along the gravel path. We cross the maintenance parking lot, dodging debris. Back here is where ­Seaward hides the riding mowers and all the other untidy equipment they need to make the campus look like the brochures. Papi and I parked here last summer when we did some painting as a trade for our book fees. I don’t tell anyone that, though, because Mami says it’s “a private matter.” But mostly, I keep quiet because I’m trying to erase the memory. ­Seaward’s gym is ginormous, so it took us three ­whole days to paint it. Plus, our school colors are ­fire-​­engine red and gray. You know what happens when you stare at bright red too long? You start to see green balls in front of your eyes every time you look away. Hmpf. Try doing detail work in that blinded condition. For all that, the school should give me and my brother, Roli, a ­whole library, not just a few measly textbooks. Papi had other ideas, of course. “Do a good job in here,” he insisted, “so they know we’re serious ­people.” I hate when he says that. Do ­people think we’re clowns? It’s like we’ve always got to prove something.
­Anyway, we make it to the gym in half the time. The back door is propped open, the way I knew it would be. The head custodian keeps a milk crate jammed in the door frame so he can read his paper in peace when no one’s looking.
“This way,” I say, using my take-charge voice. I’ve been trying to perfect it, since it’s never too early to work on your corporate leadership skills, according to the manual Papi got in the mail from the chamber of commerce, along with the ­what-​­to-​­do-​­in-​­a-​­hurricane guidelines.
So far, it’s working. I walk us along back rooms and even past the boys’ locker room, which smells like bleach and dirty socks. When we reach a set of ­double doors, I pull them open proudly. I’ve saved us all from that awful trudge through the heat.
“­Ta-​­da,” I say.
­Unfortunately, as soon as we step inside, it’s obvious that I’ve landed us all in ­hostile territory.
The older grades have gathered on this side of the gym for picture day, and the door’s loud squeak has made everyone turn in our direction to stare. They don’t look happy to have “the ­little kids” in their midst. My mouth goes dry. They’re a lot bigger than we are, for one thing. ­Ninth-graders at least. I look around for my brother, hoping for some cover, but then I remember that Roli got his fancy senior portraits taken in July at a nice ­air-​­conditioned studio at the mall. He won’t be in here at all today. He’ll be helping in the science lab, as usual, and working on all his college applications in between.
So here we are, trapped thanks to me.