After a car accident kills both fifteen-year-old Hallie and eighty-two-year-old Susan, both are given a second chance at life with one condition: that they use their time back on Earth to prove whether or not the Hurricane SUV Susan was driving actually has a dangerous design flaw, and thereby prevent similar accidents for other drivers. The catch: when they wake up back on Earth, they realize they’ve swapped bodies.
Body Swap is a funny and moving take on the Freaky Friday trope. This time, the characters switching bodies have never met before the switch, and so the themes of empathy and understanding are a broader in scope. McNicoll does a great job in showing how both teenagers and seniors are often discounted and ignored, and how women of all ages also face a similar issue. There’s a thought-provoking section where Susan thinks about how there’s a window of about twenty years in which someone can expect to be taken seriously, and that’s it. And during their investigation of the SUV’s design flaw, both Hallie and Susan realize they need Susan’s son — as a middle-aged white man and a lawyer — to argue the case on their behalf, just so their warnings will be taken seriously.
I really enjoyed this book. I loved how giddy Susan was in being back in a healthy and effortlessly fit teenage body, and I could imagine how difficult it must have been for Hallie, who has always been impatient with how slow seniors move, to learn to live with the aches and pains of old age. I thought the subplot about Susan’s son wanting to move her to an assisted living facility felt very realistic, and I love how Hallie used her time in Susan’s body to advocate for Susan’s right to determine her own life. There’s also a strong scene at the mall where Susan, a white woman, comes face to face with the racism and profiling that Hallie, a Black teen, has to confront regularly, and I wish McNicoll had done a bit more with that part of their dynamic.
My favourite part by far is the love story: Hallie died without ever having kissed a boy, so Susan agrees to use her time in Hallie’s body to help her attract her crush Chael (pronounced ‘kale’). But Susan quickly realizes that Chael’s a bit of a jerk, and Hallie’s friend Hardeep is actually a much better choice. I loved the giddy buildup of romantic tension between Susan-as-Hallie and Hardeep, and how it was Susan’s own romantic mistakes that helped her see where Hallie was going wrong with her own choices. The budding romance between Susan-as-Hallie and Hardeep could’ve been somewhat creepy, but I like how McNicoll makes it clear that Susan’s attraction to Hardeep is just because of how good he’d be with Hallie, and not for her own purposes.
The case around the SUV’s design defect got frustrating at times, and I wish that subplot had a more definitive resolution than it did. But overall, I thought the book’s themes of empathy and compassion were strong, and well-done.
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Thank you to Dundurn for an advance reading coy of this book in exchange for an honest review.