"Merci Suárez Changes Gears" by Meg Medina, Chapters 1–4

For Merci Suárez, sixth grade is a year of change. A scholarship student at the posh Seaward Pines Academy, Merci must juggle extra community service and family responsibilities, all while coping with a nasty classmate and her beloved grandfather's declining health.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–4, Chapters 5–11, Chapters 12–21, Chapters 22–28

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. gush
    praise enthusiastically
    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.
  2. quad
    a rectangular area surrounded on all sides by buildings
    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.
  3. frond
    compound leaf of a fern or palm or cycad
    It makes me wish we had one of those thatch-roof walkways that my grandfather Lolo can build out of fronds.
  4. measly
    contemptibly small in amount
    For all that, the school should give me and my brother, Roli, a whole library, not just a few measly textbooks.
  5. stickler
    someone who insists on something
    She’s usually a stickler for rules, but she’s too busy collecting payment envelopes for the sixth-graders and running crowd control.
  6. prompt
    according to schedule or without delay
    “Seven forty-five sharp,” she says. “And be prompt. We have a lot to cover.”
  7. taxidermy
    the art of mounting the skins of animals
    I look like a victim of taxidermy.
  8. lurch
    move haltingly and unsteadily
    But today, as Roli lurches around the puddles in our driveway, I see there’s even bigger trouble at home.
  9. penitentiary
    a correctional institution for those convicted of crimes
    Maybe he’s trying to save them from starting their careers in the state penitentiary early.
  10. contraption
    a device or control that is very useful for a particular job
    I study the blinking contraptions that are bolted to the dashboard, my mind racing.
  11. optometrist
    a person skilled in testing for defects of vision
    “Fine. It’s these glasses!” he says in disgust. “They’re terrible! I’ve been telling Abuela to schedule me another appointment with the optometrist. Maybe now she’ll listen.”
  12. sheepish
    showing a sense of shame
    Lolo looks at me sheepishly. “No, I suppose I’m not.”
  13. billfold
    a pocket-sized case for holding paper money
    When Abuela found his billfold in the bed of lantana he’d been weeding that afternoon—¡Ay-ay-ay!
  14. exasperated
    greatly annoyed; out of patience
    She tosses me an exasperated look and points at the twins, who are poking a fire-ant mound with a stick, practically begging to get swarmed.
  15. coax
    influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
    And even as Mami and Abuela coax him, Lolo still sits in the hot cruiser, his eyes fixed on something in the distance that I can’t see.
  16. grudge
    a resentment strong enough to justify retaliation
    “Rosa was always one for grudges,” Abuela says.
  17. spare
    save or relieve from an experience or action
    Mami dives for the wheel (again), this time to spare the lady’s feet from being flattened by our tires.
  18. orthopedic
    of or relating to the treatment of bones or joints
    The crutches and orthopedic boots Mami keeps for her rehab patients clatter to the car floor, along with her file folders that were stacked beside me.
  19. contraband
    distributed or sold illicitly
    She narrows her eyes in suspicion, probably thinking back to my contraband footwear incident.
  20. vaguely
    in an unclear way
    “We have some business to discuss,” I say vaguely.
  21. straddle
    sit or stand astride of
    Edna straddles her flashy bike, obviously waiting to park in the spot that I’m blocking.
  22. flashy
    tastelessly showy
    Edna straddles her flashy bike, obviously waiting to park in the spot that I’m blocking.
  23. gawk
    look with amazement
    I can’t help gawking at her ride in admiration.
  24. stencil
    mark or print with a sheet perforated with a pattern
    She’s on a hot-pink Electra with brightly colored stencils on the fenders that remind me of one of the modern art paintings we saw on our class trip to the Norton Museum last year.
  25. paisley
    a fabric with a colorful swirled pattern of curved shapes
    Jamie is with her, too, and—surprise—she has almost the exact same bike, only hers is pale yellow and the stencils are paisley.
  26. bewitch
    cast a spell over someone or something
    It’s Edna’s mojo again, I suppose, that dark magic that can turn perfectly ordinary people into mirrors. Jamie always gets bewitched.
  27. barge
    push one's way
    I decide to ignore her and walk toward the glass doors, but just as I start to open them, Edna reaches for the handle, too, and she and Jamie barge in ahead of me.
  28. din
    a loud harsh or strident noise
    “Good,” Miss McDaniels says over the din.
  29. podiatrist
    a specialist in care for the feet
    Her dad is a podiatrist, not a paint contractor like Papi, and she never lets us forget it.
  30. sham
    something that is a counterfeit; not what it seems to be
    Which makes me wonder: maybe this matching business is a sham?
  31. toupee
    a small hairpiece to cover partial baldness
    It could be sort of like that dating service that introduced Tía Inés to the guy with the pinkie rings and toupee.
  32. chisel
    carve with an edge tool
    You’ve got to give a lot of money to be chiseled into something permanent around here.
  33. draft
    engage somebody to enter the army
    “Bad news. Edna Santos—remember her?—she’s in lots of my classes, and I’ve been drafted into a club that I hate.”
  34. partial
    having a strong preference or liking for
    “Ah. Tall, dark, and handsome,” Tía says. “I’ve always been partial to that type.”
  35. tightwad
    a miserly person
    Everybody knows Lolo’s a tightwad.

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