February 25, 2019

Body Swap

Written by Sylvia McNicoll
248 pp.
Ages 12-15
September 2018

Why do we all think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? Is it because we can see over the fence but don't know what it feels like till we're over there? Or is it that we assume it must be better elsewhere because our sides of the fence seem less than perfect? In Sylvia McNicoll's latest middle-grade/YA Body Swap, the proverb of that greener grass is found to be accurate i.e., the grass is not always greener.

Fifteen-year-old Hallie Prince can't seem to get her nose out of her cell phone and, while rushing into the mall to catch her crush Chael Caruso, she is hit by a Hurricane SUV driven by 82-year-old Susan MacMillan. Both die, temporarily, and are transported to a carnival-like world where Eli a.k.a. God gives them five days to accomplish something positive that might give their lives different endings. But Eli, who reappears throughout the story only identified by his tattoo of Carpe diem, switches their souls so that the independent Susan, once plagued with the ailments of the elderly like arthritis, heart problems and digestion complications, is now in the robust, dark-skinned body of a teen who is mobile, eats everything, and is waiting for her first kiss. Meanwhile Hallie is expected to drive, though she doesn't have a license, suffer the tedium of Susan's son Ron and his wife Sheryl who are convinced she needs to go into a seniors' facility, endure physical limitations, wear boring clothes and more.

By convincing all that Hallie is Susan's adopted granddaughter arranged through an empathy project at school, the two interact regularly, including via their new cell phones. In a comedy of errors, Susan and Hallie learn to adjust to their new bodies and circumstances and take on some sleuthing to investigate mechanical problem with vehicles like Susan's Saji Motors' Hurricane, hopeful of ensuring no lives are lost as theirs (almost?) were.

What a ride! From accident to a visit to the other side and back again, Body Swap takes readers to places they will probably never know. Just like Susan and Hallie who get to see the lives of others by swapping bodies, readers get perspectives on youth and the elderly, making good choices for themselves and others, and being open and compassionate to all. Susan and Hallie may believe at first that Eli has cost them their own lives but their new bodies and perspectives gain them so much in the way of learning.

I know when I pick up a Sylvia McNicoll YA novel like her Crush. Candy. Corpse (Lorimer, 2012), Dying to Go Viral (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013), and Best Friends Through Eternity (Tundra, 2015) that I'm going to get real teens. Their stories may have unique elements like returning from death or being charged with manslaughter but never, never are they outrageous or unbelievable. Sylvia McNicoll knows how to weave a story around characters who could be our best friends or neighbours or classmates and never have us rolling our eyes at plot lines or voice. She gets it right every single time. Body Swap continues that tradition, giving true voice to a teen as well as an elderly woman, allowing readers to share in their lives as Susan and Hallie share in each other's. It's a compassionate look at walking in another's shoes and at the gains of having relationships with those different than ourselves.


  1. Hi, Helen. Could I cross-post your review to Quick Brown Fox? https://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/

    1. That's fine, Brian, as long as you credit me with the review and provide a link to it.