July 27, 2020

Switchback: Guest review

This review was written by teacher Elizabeth Cook.

Written by Danika Stone 
Swoon Reads
320 pp.
Ages 12-18

Warning: Do not start this book right before bedtime as you will be compelled to read until the very end...which for me was three in the morning!

Danika Stone’s Switchback is a story of two best friends in Grade 10 who are required to go on an overnight camping trip in the Rocky Mountains to earn their gym class credit.  Vale (Valeria) and Ash (Ashton) couldn’t be more different.  Vale loves learning about new topics and going on hikes with her family.  She stands up for what is right against the school bullies, Mike and Brodie, which made her an easy target and a social outcast. On the other hand, Ash is loved by everyone for his self-deprecating humour and corny jokes (“Hey, Vale.  You know how trees get onto the internet?  They log on!”) but he would never choose to be outside, preferring to spend all day inside playing D&D or video games.

The group's two-day climb up the mountain begins with a small hike followed by a lunch break during which Vale sees Mike and Brodie littering the national park with their lunch wrappers.  Worried for the safety of the animals, she convinces Ash to help her pick up the garbage, which unfortunately results in them being left behind by their group.  Hoping to reach the designated camping spot at Twin Lakes, the pair continue on the path, until the cloud cover causes them to lose their way. As the dark night sky looms and the rains begin, Vale and Ash decide to set up a shelter to keep warm and hopefully avoid the forecast snow. 

The two teens face numerous challenges in the wilderness while trying to find a way back to civilization. Their biggest concerns are staying healthy and safe. First, they have limited food and water, as their meals disappeared with the rest of the school group. Other than a couple of sticks of gum, a handful of GORP (granola, oats, raisins, peanuts), the pair must fend for themselves. They also have to fight off hypothermia–their clothes get wet when the snow comes–and tend to their hiking injuries with only the small first aid kit that Vale had packed. Moreover, the two have to worry about the many animals they encounter along the way. When it is dark on the side of a mountain, every snap of a branch sends a new wave of panic through them as they pray for a harmless deer rather than a larger predator looking for a snack.

This YA novel is a definite page turner!  I started this novel hoping I would enjoy it for a couple of days, but I loved it too much to stop. I had to know what would happen next and read through the night until I was done.  Switchback is a real nail biter and it definitely kept my heart beating fast during many scenes. The story of these two friends trying to survive in the wilderness is a story of bravery, perseverance, and true friendship!

~ Reviewer Elizabeth Cook is a teacher in the Halton District School Board. She is an avid reader and fan of Canadian literature. 

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