Friday, February 1, 2013


In the novel Switch the author, Karen Prince, creates an intricate story about self-discovery set in the heart of Africa. Prince seamlessly blends multiple points of view and a dynamic setting together in a way that makes for a wholly original coming of age story about a germaphobic, hypochondriac named Ethan.  When Ethan is sent from the technologically advanced city of Cape Town to stay in the underdeveloped countryside of Zimbabwe with his father, Ethan has to decide how far he is willing to go to survive and what he’s willing to do to save those he loves.

The story begins in the mythical land of Karibu with a soul swapper pondering whose body it wants to inhabit. His current body is getting old and he needs a new one in order to continue living, but for him to live, someone else must die. In a conundrum, since he is not keen upon ending someone’s life he peers out over the city and his eyes land on his victim-a witch named Gogo Maya.

Gogo Maya is soon captured a long with her familiar, a leopard named Salih. In order to escape Gogo Maya performs a magical ritual called a switch. Unfortunately, she ends up switching right out of Karibu and into Zimbabwe, inadvertently sending Ethan’s cousin, Joe, into the wilds of Karibu. Through an interesting series of events Ethan ends up gaining the witch’s power and is placed in charge of traveling to Karibu to find Joe.  

Along the way Ethan runs into deadly creatures and perilous situations. The best part of Prince’s story is the development of Ethan’s character. In the beginning, his thoughts were riddled with phobias about the native traditions and their possible impact on his cleanliness and his health. As the story progresses and Ethan finally runs out of hand sanitizer, he becomes more and more concerned with the well-being of those around him, growing into an unlikely hero. In countless situations Ethan puts aside his fears, to save others, but most impressively he puts aside his beliefs of superiority and learns the value of other cultures and traditions.   

With a cast of side characters such as a witch with a vacillating moral compass, a scrupulous soul jumper, and a shape shifting Hyena with his own agenda Switch is unlike any other young adult book on the market. The characters are multi-dimensional, with motivations that make them seem more human than your average protagonist or antagonist. No one can be classified as all good or all bad, which is an accurate depiction of the world-- and people --not often seen in books. This setup challenges the reader to consider all possible outcomes, and to constantly reevaluate the characters for who they become as the novel progresses.   

Although this story shines, because of its innovative setting and its cast of characters, there are portions of setting and inner monologue that could have been edited out to ensure a continuous flow of action.  Additionally, there are aspects where complex problems are quickly and easily fixed (or not fixed) with no consequences. Despite these flaws, Prince has written a timeless coming of age piece that will appeal to people of all ages.

                    *********** 3.5 STARS ****************   

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