Happy MMGM, Reading Nook readers!
Hopefully, all of you are enjoying your long weekend by doing what we all love best - reading!
Today, I'm reviewing The Swap by Megan Schull. It's a cute MMGM that's reminiscent of Freaky Friday, with two characters who go on nice journeys of self-discovery.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books
Format read: E-ARC via Edelweiss
Synopsis via publisher:
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.
The synopsis made it sound like a 21st Century version of Freaky Friday, with a hint of It's a Boy Girl Thing thrown in. I figured it wouldn't be too much different from either film, in terms of story or depth. But The Swap pleasantly surprised me.
Shull introduces us to Ellie and Jack, who are preparing to start seven and eighth grade, respectively. Ellie's feeling down because her childhood best friend Sassy is now alternating between teasing and bullying her, and Ellie doesn't know how to cope.
Jack, who has been dubbed "The Prince" of their school, is also struggling. The constant, unrelenting pressure of living up to his father's expectations and his childhood dream of being a professional hockey player, is causing him more stress than he's willing to admit to friends or his brothers.
After a series of unpleasant run-ins for both characters, both Jack and Ellie end up in the infirmary. It's there that they make the fateful wish that eventually lands them in each other's bodies.
Shull's magical tale of two young adults who are accidentally forced to walk a mile in each other's shoes is as charming as it is intelligent and thought-provoking. Ellie and Jack are quickly forced to cope with their unexpected circumstances, developing the type of savvy and quick-witted thinking that any reader will admire in their main characters.
As they learn how to adapt to take advantage of each other's personal circumstances in a positive way - e.g. Jack enjoys being able to sleep in at Ellie's place, for the first time in a long time; Ellie realizes that she has friends she didn't necessarily appreciate before - Shull shows readers the value of the small things in life, and how we come to appreciate them so much more when viewed from a different context.
More importantly, Shull shows that even though sometimes, people may seem like they have it all, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Ellie's realization "The Prince's" father is not the most attentive (or even the kindest) of parents, or Jack's comprehension that sometimes, the so-called "hot" girl of the school can turn out to be the meanest, are all strong reminders that a person can't always be judged by their public face.
Because both characters are especially adept in sport - Ellie is a star soccer player, while Jack definitely has his hockey skills - Shull uses their skills as a way to remind others that it's also good to take risks. Both Ellie and Jack are forced to take on each other's sports, and find that their ability to conquer those sports is not only incredibly motivating, but gives them a new perspective.
Naturally, any novel with a male and female lead will involve a bit of romance. Shull touches on the subject lightly, but in a way that focuses more on individual development - e.g. Ellie recognizes her own beauty, and it's that beauty which attracts others - more than actual romance.
Of special note: Shull is especially adept at handling the concept of loss, in a way that is sensitive to the topic, and incredibly age appropriate.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate Shull's message that loss is definitely a painful thing to go through, but it's not necessarily something that any individual needs to go through by themselves. There are always those who will be more than happy to talk and comfort - even if it occasionally takes awhile for everyone to reach that same conclusion.
Ellie and Jack's unintentional body swap, lead both characters to work on personal development and empowerment, as they jointly realize that they have hidden depths that they weren't aware of before. Along the way, they also learn to appreciate what they have in their own lives, and use that positivity to influence those around them.
I highly recommend this book for fans of Meg Cabot and Jenny Lundquist.
About the author:
Born and raised in Ithaca, New York, Megan Shull is the author of several books for kids including the award-winning young adult novel Amazing Grace. Megan holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Cornell University, where she also earned her undergraduate degree. She lives in her hometown, where she feels especially lucky to walk the quiet rolling hills alongside red-tailed hawks and waterfalls.