January 30, 2012


by Tish Cohen
HarperTrophy Canada
251 pp.
Ages 12-15

Although the title and the front cover are fairly explicit about the book's general plot, specific elements and Tish Cohen's skill at effectively providing her teen characters with convincing voices take Switch from just another Freaky Friday (Mary Rodgers, 1972) wannabe to an unnerving tale corroborating the "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" truism.

The two teen girls involved in the Switch are Andrea Birch and Joules Adams who attend the same high school in Orange County, California.  Except for a passing acquaintance with each other, the girls' lives don't really cross until the day Andrea is forced by Joules to help rescue her when she's been fooling around with a boy other than her boyfriend, Will.  The simple physical switch of changing shirts and seats in Andrea's mother's new car gets Andrea into a lot of trouble, including from her mom whose focus is the foster kids who are staying with them.  Currently, between 14-year-old Brayden (who is always annoying her), two twelve-year-old girls (who always take stuff from her room), a set of adorable infant twins, and another young girl, Michaela, whose parents were critically injured in a hit-and-run, Andrea is feeling neglected.  As such, Joules' unbelievable life as a rock star's daughter is especially alluring to Andrea.  When overwhelmed by her Mom's perceived lack of interest and high expectations coupled with her long-time crush on Will, Andrea offhandedly wishes (while wearing a pair of funky dishwashing gloves from an African psychic) that she had Joules' life and, ta-da, she does.

Andrea as Joules isn't keen on Joules' wardrobe and body, but learns pretty quickly how cool it is to have Will as a boyfriend (even if he had been planning to break-up) and that rocker Nigel Adams adores his daughter, sometimes making poor choices to win her love.  Joules as Andrea, on the other hand, spends much of her time chagrined by the innumerable chores expected of her, furious with Andrea for getting closer to Will, and making choices to discredit real Andrea.  Several subplots, including one regarding Michaela's parents' hit-and-run, continue to fuel Andrea's determination to return to her old self, while saving her own reputation, enjoying Will's affections, and enlightening Joules about Nigel.

As the narrator, Andrea shares the girls' experiences as she perceives them, reacting and responding as a responsible young woman looking towards her future might.  She even berates herself for being too selfish not to see her parents as those who help make things right for children.  However, I felt that Andrea didn't give herself enough credit, often focusing on how exceptional her mom, Lise, is, without recognizing her own caring, compassion and sense of responsibility. But, I don't think Andrea realizes that abuse can take many forms, not just those in evidence in the homes from which some foster children come.  In reading Switch, I was cognizant of the emotional abuse that Andrea suffers from her mother's emphasis on the needs of her foster children above those of Andrea.  She uses guilt regularly to ensure Andrea's compliance: with sharing her room, with persevering taunts, with accepting her mother's inattention.  Andrea would have every right to shout, "It isn't fair."  I wonder how well Lise would have fared if the switch had been between mother and daughter.  I suspect that she'd be far less successful as Andrea than Andrea would be as her mom, and perhaps she'd be a little more sympathetic to the heavy responsibilities and lack of teen life faced by her daughter.  (Hey, wait.  Isn't that the switch in Freaky Friday or even in Vice Versa (Anstey, 1882), its precursor?)

Still, Tish Cohen capably gets into the heads of two very different young women with very different lives whose needs are not very different at all.  Any switch would certainly be a worthwhile opportunity for most of us, especially with a person we admire.  There's a reason there are so many sayings, about walking a mile in my shoes, the grass being greener on the other side and not reading a book by its cover, that suggest how ignorant we are about the lives of others.  Luckily (or not), Andrea and Joules had a remarkable learning opportunity and both were able to benefit from it. Guess Andrea should have listened to her mom when she was told, "Your life looks pretty good from where I'm standing" (pg. 25).  Do I sense a sequel?

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