November 1st, 2014

Lucy Woodward, happy

Author Spotlight: Megan Shull

Megan Shull writes truly refreshing and realistic stories for kids and teens. Here now are my thoughts on her three books to date.

Yours Truly, Skye O'Shea - Ages 8 and up

Shortly after Skye enters middle school, she feels overwhelmed by her homework, her first crush, and her afterschool sports. Skye worries that she'll never be as skilled or as smart as her older sisters, twins Shannon and Shelby. At home, they always make Skye feel as though it's two against one. On the ice, all three girls excel at hockey. Even after Skye makes the big team, she thinks she has push herself even more in order to prove her worth.

Skye's the Limit - Ages 8 and up

The summer between sixth grade and seventh grade is here, and most of Skye's friends are going to typical summer camps or taking vacations with their friends. Skye decides to go to an outdoor camp in Vancouver, even though she's a little scared to be so far away from home. Both her inner strength and physical strength are tested as she battles homesickness, makes new friends, learns how to kayak, and bicycles her heart out. This book shows kids that it's natural to be worried about going to a sleepaway camp, and that while a different sport or activity might seem weird at first, they should give it a try - they just might discover a new and exciting hobby!

After you read these books, I bet that you, like me, will be wishing there were more Skye stories.

Amazing Grace - Ages 13 and up

Amazing Grace is an absolutely sweet story about a tennis pro who takes a much-needed break from it all. It has so much heart and it made me smile. Readers can't help but root for Grace to find her way. I feel that Amazing Grace is the one of the best attempts at the "de-celebrity" or "makeunder" storyline, something which many teen books have tackled in recent years. Amazing Grace is plausible and realistic without ever relying on modern-day tidbits and namedropping to make it more hip and marketable. This is the story of a girl who wanted and needed to get out of the spotlight and lead a normal life. I highly recommend this book.

The Swap - Ages 12 and up

If you like the concept of comedic body switches a la Freaky Friday, then you will dig The Swap. When an encounter at school causes them to unwillingly swap bodies, thirteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Ellie have to figure out a way to deal with their very different bodies, families, friends, and afterschool obligations until they can swap back.

This is a smart and sensitive look at what it would be like for two middle school students of opposite genders to switch places. The narrating duties flip back and forth in alternating chapters, and the story is easy to follow. The Swap considers the different ways we treat girls and boys, the different things we expect of our sons and daughters, and it's a great take on upper middle school life, a time that a lot of TV shows glaze over, jumping from little-kid-dom right into the teen age rather than dealing with the simultaneous horrors and happiness of those in-between wonder years.

Read my full-length review of the book.

Related Booklists:
Full of Grace
Hey There, Sports Fan
But I Don't Want to Be Famous!

Fringe, contemplative, swing

The Swap by Megan Shull

If you like the concept of comedic body switches a la Freaky Friday, then it's time for you to read Megan Shull's new novel The Swap.

Note that I said comedic "body switches" as opposed to horror-movie-style body swaps - those are invasive and terrifying, whereas The Swap is a smart and sensitive look at what it would be like for two middle school students of opposite genders to switch places.

When an encounter at school causes them to unwillingly swap bodies, thirteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Ellie have to figure out a way to deal with their very different bodies, families, friends, and afterschool obligations until they can swap back. Before this unexpected event, the kids weren't friends. They go to the same school, so they vaguely knew each other - with Ellie being more aware of Jack than vice-versa - but they are a grade apart and don't have any classes or activities in common. By the time the book is over, though, there's no way they could call themselves strangers anymore.

This story is about more than temporarily being in someone else's body - it's about sharing someone else's life. The decisions the protagonists make and the actions they take while walking in each other's shoes (including Ellie's soccer cleats and Jack's hockey skates) affect them both. Seeing the world through new eyes changes how they see others and how they see themselves.

And back to the body sharing: where some sitcoms, books, or movies might play awkward moments in the locker room and in the bathroom as silly and/or gross jokes, these kids are truly uncomfortable at those times, and ultimately very respectful.

You could say that the two parental figures in the book are both devoted to their children, but they are definitely at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Ellie's mother, a divorced single parent and yoga instructor, is upbeat and sunny. Jack's stern father, a widower, is very strict with his four sons. Very strict. Think Captain Von Trapp. He oversees their daily fitness routine and year-round hockey training and makes them call him "sir." Ellie's mom wishes her daughter would be more open with her, while Jack's militaristic dad doesn't do heart-to-heart chats.

Jack has a whole bunch of buddies and gets along very well with his brothers. Meanwhile, only child Ellie feels like she doesn't have a friend in the world. Sassy, her best friend since kindergarten, has found a new best friend and now finds it fun to say mean things to Ellie (and Jack-as-Ellie) at school, on the soccer field, and at a memorable sleepover. Anyone who has had a friend turn on them, especially in middle school, will relate to that heartache. Friendship break-ups can hurt just as much as romantic ones. Not all friends make up; not all friends should. Kids and adults alike should keep this in mind: If someone is being mean to you and repeatedly putting you down, that person is not a true friend.

Both Ellie and Jack are healthy and athletic, which is really cool. It also comes in handy when they have attend each other's practices and tryouts. I also appreciated that the sports storylines didn't culminate in either character winning the big game or being chosen MVP; instead, it was about personal successes, about what the work taught them about themselves and how it pushed them outside of their comfort zones. There was also a neat sporty bit towards the end of the book that I wasn't expecting, and I liked a lot.

I've read a lot of books with dual narratives, and The Swap is a solid example of a story that both needs and benefits from two narrators who offer honest first-person thoughts. Without making them polar opposites, Shull has her characters speak and react differently, with some overlap - it's fun when they start realizing that they've picked up each other's lingo. The narrating duties flip back and forth in alternating chapters, and the story is easy to follow. The Swap considers the different ways we treat girls and boys, the different things we expect of our sons and daughters, and it's a great take on upper middle school life, a time that a lot of TV shows glaze over, jumping from little-kid-dom right into the teen age rather than dealing with the simultaneous horrors and happiness of those in-between wonder years.

For those of who you have yet to read the original novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, do yourself a favor and pick up that book at the same time you pick up The Swap. Also grab Megan Shull's previous releases, including Amazing Grace.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Author Spotlight: Megan Shull
Booklist: Multiple Narrators
Booklist: Hey There, Sports Fan!
Booklist: Suggested Sets
Booklist: Middle School Must-Haves