CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 34 . . . . May 6, 2011
Andrea Birch's life is complicated, and it's getting harder and harder to cope. The newspaper piece calling her "Child One of Thirty-Eight" sums it up. Andrea's mom and dad are foster parents who never turn away a child in need, and Andrea is expected to pitch in and help whenever her mom or one of the current foster kids needs a hand. High expectations at home, no privacy, virtually no social life ... wouldn’t it be nice to just leave it all behind and be someone totally different!
The theme of wanting to exchange your life with someone else occurs frequently in both books and movies. Tish Cohen doesn't add anything particularly new or different to the theme, but Switch is a novel which young adults will enjoy reading. The characters are clearly drawn and realistic. Andrea's parents are stereotypical 'save the planet' folks with their Ugg slippers and Birkenstocks, while Joules Adams's father is a famous rock star who is vain and often childish and whose life is run by a committee interested only in presenting the correct image. Joules, Andrea and Will are the principal teen characters, and all are believable in both their actions and their speech thanks to the many details provided by Cohen.
Living in someone else's body is, of course, a perfect opportunity for all kinds of problems and misunderstandings. Cohen presents the lighter side of this, such as the inevitable boyfriend issues which arise. There is a deeper element to the plot, however, as Andrea comes to better understand and appreciate her parents and their motives. Events come to a head near the end of the novel when Andrea realizes that the reality of Joules's father doesn't live up to his image, and Andrea must make a tough decision about how to handle a delicate, even criminal situation.
Both girls learn from the switch, and when they inevitably return to their real selves, both have changed dramatically. Switch is a coming-of-age novel wherein the main characters are certainly more mature at the end of the book. Cohen, as in her other novels, presents interesting and likable characters with honesty and compassion, sprinkled with ample amounts of humour. Bravo for taking a well-used them and finding a fresh new way to present it!
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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