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Reviews of the 2019 Newbery Award winners

Winner

Merci Suárez Changes Gears
by Meg Medina
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    361 pp.    g
9/18    978-0-7636-9049-6    $16.99

Working-class Cuban American girl Mercedes “Merci” Suárez’s life in South Florida consists of spending time with her extended family and attending elite Seaward Pines Academy, where the sixth grader does community service to pay for her tuition. Now in her second year, Merci must participate in the Sunshine Buddies program, mentoring new-kid Michael Clark (“a boy!”) and enduring the teasing of mean girl Edna Santos. In the midst of growing up and trying to find a school-life balance, she experiences the power dynamics between her Mami and Papi; navigates her relationship with her studious brother Roli; witnesses the struggles of her tía, Inéz, as she runs a bakery and raises young twins; and worries about her abuelo, Lolo, who no longer seems like himself. Medina brings depth, warmth, and heart to her characters and their voices, because she never shies away from portraying this family’s flaws and includes frank conversations around difficult issues, such as Alzheimer’s. Medina (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, rev. 3/13; Burn Baby Burn, rev. 3/16) consistently and assuredly portrays Latinx girls and women who grapple with their insecurities while learning about themselves and their worlds, and middle-grade heroine Merci is a fine example. Accurate and natural use of Spanish words and sayings that fit each character’s tone builds authenticity. Medina writes with sincerity and humor to convey the experience of growing up in a close-knit family that tends to mingle too much in everyone’s business while unfailingly and dedicatedly supporting and helping one another. SUJEI LUGO

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

The Night Diary
by Veera Hiranandani
Intermediate, Middle School     Dial     267 pp.     g
3/18     978-0-7352-2851-1     $16.99

In 1947 India, the only place half-Hindu, half-Muslim twelve-year-old Nisha feels that she has a voice is her diary. She addresses every entry to Mama, who died when Nisha and her twin brother Amil were born. The diary becomes a lifeline when Nisha’s family (considered Hindu) is forced to leave home after the Partition of India, implemented on August 14–15, 1947, suddenly places their city of Mirpur Khas in the newly created Muslim state of Pakistan. Hiranandani has flawlessly rendered a world-altering historical event through the eyes of a sensitive and perceptive child, providing enough detail for readers who may not be familiar with the events while keeping focus on her protagonist’s sadness over her mother’s death, her struggle with shyness, and her frustration with adults’ baffling motives and behavior. Hiranandani doesn’t shy away from depicting some truly frightening episodes along Nisha’s arduous journey (for example, when she is threatened at knifepoint), but she does so in a voice that is faithfully pitched to an upper-intermediate and middle-school audience. The detailed author’s note and glossary will entice young readers already captivated by Hiranandani’s pitch-perfect tone to more deeply explore this complicated and bloody period of history. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The Book of Boy
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock; illus. by Ian Schoenherr
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    278 pp.
2/18    978-0-06-268620-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-268622-0    $7.99

Secundus is a pilgrim. A child, known simply as Boy, is a goatherd. Together they travel, master and servant, from France to Rome in the Holy Year of 1350. Each is on a quest. Secundus is collecting six specific relics — bits of bone and teeth — to deposit in St. Peter’s tomb and thus earn his way into heaven. Boy wants St. Peter to cure him of the disfiguring hump on his back; to be a “regular boy.” Mysteries abound. How did Secundus come by a key that opens all locks, and why does he reek of brimstone? How can Boy communicate so well with animals, and why does he never eat? Murdock is in complete control of her medieval material. She evokes the bleak, plague-decimated villages of Europe, provides details of the seamy yet powerful trade in relics, and limns a world in which every aspect of life is steeped in religious belief. It is all fresh, immediate, and earthy: the fakery, the faith, the embedded stories, the escapades. The story is beautifully served by its presentation — generous page design, thick deckle-edged paper, and gorgeous woodcut-style illustrations that head each chapter. Most remarkable and unusual is the character of Boy, a complex and compelling being whose defining quality is goodness. SARAH ELLIS

From the July/August 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards.

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2019.

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