Book Review: The Swap
By: Megan Shull
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Page Count: 400
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Middle Grades - Magical Realism, Contemporary
I'm not typically a middle grades reader. In fact, I loved the cover of this one so much I snagged it before I realized it was a middle grades novel. I really should take a chance on more of these as they are something I could talk to my students about more than some of the upper YA stuff. The Swap was an excellent way to dive into middle grades and get a feel for this age group. Also, after teaching 7th and 8th graders for so long, I can firmly say that this novel portrays middle schoolers in a realistic and authentic way. Shull has captured the essence of the middle school experience beautifully in all of its bittersweet glory.
The Swap is Mean Girls meets Freaky Friday with a dash of The Mighty Ducks. Seriously, if this novel had existed when I was in middle school, I would have been all about it. No friend of mine would have gotten away with not reading this one. I did find that as an adult, I didn't love this one the way I love YA novels, but I did enjoy it. I love that there is a female main character, Ellie, and a male main character, Jack. It's so hard to find novels to hand to my male students from time to time. I think this novel will appeal to both genders and I love the messages it contains on topics such as bullying, giving your best, and finding true friends.
Ellie is getting ready to enter the 7th grade without her best friend. Sassy, her former BFF, has decided she is too cool for Ellie these days and she never misses an opportunity to let Ellie know exactly how she feels. Sassy is the sort of girl who makes me cringe; she flings insults and chooses to put people down to make herself feel better. I loved that most of the characters in the novel were not fooled by her and even the male characters realized that she was only pretty until she opened her mouth. Ellie, on the other hand, can't stop wishing that Sassy was her friend again - no matter how horrible Sassy treats her. In the beginning of the novel, Ellie is shy and unsure of herself. She doesn't truly see the beautiful and talented individual she is, but rather she sees herself as unworthy and unfriendable. She chooses to hide from her problems rather than tackle them head on.
The other main character, Jack, is going into 8th grade and he's the boy ever girl dreams about at night. He's handsome, smart, nice, and one heck of a hockey player. The girls even refer to Jack as "The Prince", but he's so shy around the opposite sex that he has no idea he is the object of every female's affection. Jack is also struggling at home after the death of his mother. His dad is withdrawn and expects a lot out of Jack and his three older brothers. Even though Jack's dad is always pushing the boys to be the best and his heart is in the right place, I felt bad for Jack. There is so much pressure on him and nothing ever seems good enough.
Things change drastically for Ellie and Jack on the first day of school. Bad decisions land them both in the nurses office where they lament that the other gender has life so much easier. Moments later they realize that they have swapped bodies. Ellie must live Jack's life and he must live hers. Both of them will realize that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. This experience will change them both for the better and help them appreciate their lives and families.
I think this is a valuable novel for middle school kids. While it irked me that Sassy was such a jerk, her behavior is sadly something lots of kids have to deal with during their school career. There are some valuable lessons about how to handle bullying in this one that I think would be beneficial for younger adolescents. I also think the messages about true friendship and loyalty are important. I'll certainly be recommending this one when school starts again in a few weeks.
One Last Gripe: This one seemed a bit long for a middle grades novel.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the ending - it was exactly how I wanted things to end up.
First Sentence: It's sunny and it's summer and the three of us are sitting on the scratchy cement edge of the Riverside Swim Club pool, dangling our feet into the deep end.
Favorite Character: Ellie
Least Favorite Characters: Sassy and Aspen
“YOU BE ME...AND I'LL BE YOU.”
ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.
Then, BAM! They swap lives—and bodies!
Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties while Ellie’s reigning as the Prince of Thatcher Middle School. As their crazy weekend races on—and their feelings for each other grow—Ellie and Jack begin to realize that maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being someone else.