Exchange of Heart (Darren Groth, Penguin)
Canadian Munro Maddox is on an exchange program to Brisbane for one reason only—to leave behind the demons he’s been carrying around since the sudden death of his younger sister Evie. When his host school enlists him to volunteer at the local assisted-living residence, he’s worried he’ll never stop grappling with memories of Evie, who had Down syndrome. A companion novel to Are You Seeing Me?, Exchange of Heart is more accessible than its counterpart, and well suited for readers ages 13-16. It has Darren Groth’s trademark tenderness and dismantling of misconceptions about people living with disabilities, but lacks the depth of characterisation that made Are You Seeing Me? so memorable. In this story the plot takes precedence over characters. Readers are kept at a distance from the protagonist, which maintains the mystery about Evie’s death, but makes connecting with Munro a challenge. The secondary characters are a strong, warm and diverse cast, but remain firmly in the background. Exchange of Heart explores what it means to be a big brother even after you’ve lost your only sibling, but in a market abundant with stories of trauma, grief and healing, it doesn’t have the raw emotional pull of titles such as Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky and Claire Zorn’s The Protected.
Jordi Kerr is a freelance reviewer and youth literature advocate, formerly with the Centre for Youth Literature