Ellie is a 7th grade girl who has not just been dropped by her best friend, but is now the target of her virulent meanness. The mother of 8th grader Jack, aka the Prince of Thatcher Middle School, died just over a year ago, and his father has turned into a machine since then. And on the first Friday afternoon of school they are both in the nurse’s office when, for no particular reason other than it’s a book, they swap into each other’s bodies. Lessons are learned, both about themselves and each other, until they are ready to swap back.
Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes – either metaphorically or literally – is not a particularly original theme for a book, and there’s even been at least one other book I can think of where this is signaled on the cover with two pairs of differing shoes. I’ve also read several books recently in which a middle grade girl is dropped socially by a friend who is growing up faster than she is. And a father who demands perfection from his kids – again not a world shattering idea.
But yet, the alternating narrators – Jack and Ellie – and their families are so well-crafted and such authentic characters that The Swap takes all these hackneyed ingredients and cooks up something surprisingly original and tasty. It lost me a little bit in schmaltzy goo at the end, but up until then I was rooting for both kids to find a way out of the holes they found themselves in and thrilled that, in their swapped personas, they were able to do so.