The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.
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.
Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing.
For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be.
I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall.
As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle.
I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me.