Review Blog

Oct 05 2017

Exchange of heart by Darren Groth

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Random House, 2017. ISBN 9780143781578
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Assisted living, Exchange program, Disability, Death, Grieving, Mental health. When Munro lands in Australia and goes to his new home in Brisbane ready for a six month exchange, the reader is aware that he has problems, as he argues with a voice in his head he calls Coyote. His new family is welcoming, and their son, Rowan takes him to school the next day where he must fit into the year eleven cohort, wear the uniform, and obey the school rules. A part of the school's routine is a fifty hour volunteer program in which he is expected to participate. From the start, we realise that Munro is harbouring guilt about his sister's death. Evie died suddenly a year before and Munro is still grieving, while his parents have set up a foundation to raise money and awareness about Down's Syndrome. Munro has on line face time with his family and friends back home and fits into the friendship group of Rowan. His relationships in the first few weeks getting to know Rowan's friends and finding a place within the school are uneasy and several times he meets the counsellor to discuss his progress. His placement is at Fair Go, am assisted living complex, and here Munro becomes a living partner, someone to walk with the group he is assigned to. They elect to have him as their partner, and plan out a series of excursions to show him their city. In this way Groth is able to tell us about the group as Munro sits with them on the bus and each choses the tour each week, their choice revealing something of them to the reader.
Munro subtly changes over the weeks he spends with these people. Coyote's voice disappears while he is at Fair Go, he comes to look forward to his time there, even missing school on Wednesday afternoons to be with one of the boys, the sleeper, Shah, to play chess. He becomes involved with their lives and issues as he begins to reveal what happened to Evie and how much she was part of his life.
With some humour, Groth reveals some of the prejudice these people are subject to, both from society and sometimes within their own families. Some situations will cause the reader to stop and think about their own attitudes, while some are heart breaking.
The story of Munro's acceptance of his sister's death is engrossing, as Groth reveals the effects of her death on the whole family, all grieving in their own way.
His being sent to Australia is a strategy to have him resolve his issues and start afresh, but in going to the assisted living program he finds a new path with his whole family, one which remembers Evie in the best way possible.
This is a memorable read.
Fran Knight

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