Exchange of heart by Darren Groth
Penguin Random House Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780143781578
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Student exchanges. Mental disorders. Assisted living. Munro Maddux has been having problems ever since the death of his sister Evie. He constantly hears a voice that he calls the Coyote, which is always negative and nasty and he is so affected by grief that he refuses to go to school. However when a student exchange to Australia is offered he decides to go and finds a welcoming family in Brisbane. His new school has a compulsory volunteer program and at Fair Go, an assisted living residence, Munro finds that the voice is silenced.
There are many heart breaking moments and flashes of humour as Munro settles into a new school, helped by Rowan his new Australian friend and son of his exchange family, and his friend back in Canada. Munro has to constantly struggle against the voice of Coyote, his chest pains and his anger and the only place he finds peace is at Fair Go.
This is a wonderful story that delves deeply into the effects of grief as well as giving a warm insight into an assisted living program. The team of residents at Fair Go, Bernie, Florence, Blake and Dale, refugee Shah and Iggy, design a Straya Tour to show Munro the sights and the reader is taken on a journey around Brisbane as well as gaining insights into the characters and strengths of the team. Munro too, begins to discover that he has things to offer as a volunteer and his aim to become better seems possible. A glimpse of Perry from Are you seeing me? will also please readers who enjoyed that book and there is an unexpected twist towards the conclusion of the book that draws together many threads of the book.
Groth has given the reader a warm and memorable story that will stay in the memory for a long time. The themes of coming of age, assisted living and mental health make this an excellent book for a class novel or literature circle book.