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Eleven-year-old Merci wants to fit in with her sixth-grade peers at Seaward Pines Academy in Florida. However, while most of the students come from wealthy families who can afford their tuition, Merci is there on a scholarship.

But there’s more. Unlike her peers who live in nuclear families, Merci lives with her extended family—grandparents, aunt, cousins, parents, and brother—in three houses on a compound. Cuban culture, in which they are rooted, emphasizes the utmost importance of family; intergenerational family members share meals, responsibilities, trials, joys, and dreams.

So when Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, begins to act strangely, she sees his erratic behavior on a daily basis. Though her family has always claimed they don’t keep secrets from each other, Merci becomes increasingly frustrated because the adults won’t tell her why Lolo is acting the way he is.

As tensions build at home and school—a popular girl repeatedly harasses Merci—she longs for answers. An unsettling experience finally compels the adults to tell Merci about Lolo’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

This juvenile novel, which contains some profanity, is a sensitive portrayal of a girl who desperately loves her family yet wants to fit into the predominant American culture. Her journey leads her into a deeper appreciation of the riches of her heritage, the nature of true friendship, and the reality that growing up means changing gears and moving on. The book won the Newbery Medal just this week. Ages 10 and up. (Candlewick)

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