Body Swap – by Sylvia McNicoll. Dundurn Press, 2020
review by Yara Sabolic
Body Swap is a book by Sylvia McNicoll from Burlington, Ontario. She has written and published over ten children and young adult novels books* one of which I will be reviewing today.
Hallie is a teenager who spends more time on her cell phone than with other people. Susan is an eighty-two-year-old senior citizen on the brink of moving into an old people’s home. In a surprising twist of fate, Susan and Hallie meet after a fatal car crash that was caused by Susan. Meeting at a strange carnival, which is a metaphor for heaven, they are offered a chance to ride the roller coaster, by Eli, or God. This figure appears throughout the book, has no gender, and in subtle ways helps Susan and Hallie uncover the mystery of the fatal crash. The roller coaster passes people from life to death. As both Hallie and Susan do not wish to die, they are offered a second chance at life. There is a catch, however. They wake up in each other’s bodies, back at the crash site. Susan, who now looks and feels like Hallie, is adamant that it was not her fault that the car crashed, and that it was the brake pedal that was stuck. Hallie, who now looks and feels like Susan, thinks that Susan, being old and feeble, had caused the crash. They soon find out from Eli, who sent them back to life, that they must prove that Susan is in fact innocent, otherwise they will stay in each other’s bodies forever… At first, Susan and Hallie dislike each other, and each one thinks that the other has no idea how hard it is to be them. Hallie cannot stand being old, and Susan is overjoyed at being young once again. Yet, being young isn’t as easy as it seems, and Hallie would like nothing more than to get back to her own body. The two start to understand how hard it is to live in one anothers’ body, and develop an unlikely friendship. Susan and Hallie have only a short amount of time to solve the mystery of the almost fatal crash… otherwise they will have to live, and perhaps die, in each other’s bodies.
I love how McNicoll wrote chapters from both characters’ perspectives, as they provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the characters personalities, motivations and experiences. Being a teenager myself, I don’t think that I could have understood and connected to Susan’s character as much as I did if there hadn’t been passages from her point of view. I also found Mcnicoll’s characters to be very relatable, with Hallie’s quick wit and sarcasm, and Susan’s quiet wisdom. McNicoll’s writing style really helped to pull me into the book, as the story was written from the first person perspective, something that I often enjoy in books. My favourite aspect of the book, however, was who was swapping bodies with who. There are a lot of stories and movies depicting a boy and a girl swapping bodies, or someone who is unpopular switching bodies with someone who is popular. This book gives the reader a break from the overused clichés, as the story is between a young girl and an older woman. I find this interesting as there are not a lot of books that create an older character with insight and depth. As someone of the younger generation, it is refreshing to read a novel from this particular point of view. Two things that bothered me were the underlying religious themes, such as the fact that it was God who brought Susan and Hallie back from the dead, and that the carnival that they had briefly visited is a metaphor for Heaven. Secondly, as I prefer faster paced books, I found that it took a while for the book to get to the rising action of the plot, which is when Hallie and Susan start investigating the car that caused the crash. Overall, I enjoyed the book thoroughly, as it really explored what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes, which is an important part of understanding what empathy really means.
I would recommend Body Swap to people from ages 10 – 13, and anyone who likes books with wit, humour, and a bit of mystery. I would for sure read other books by Sylvia McNicoll, because I truly did enjoy this one, and I would recommend it to more avid readers.
*Sylvia has published over 20 books in English and also has a number for a Scandinavian Book Club, which translates them — so she has books in Danish, Norwegian, etc.