Sarah's Stars

Abby McDonald. Sophomore Switch 
Candlewick $20.00 ISBN 978-0-7636-3936-5 297 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 15

"Did you see that?" One of the other girls laughs, a loud braying sound that attracts way more attention than my tiny mishap. Other people start to look over, and right away I get a flashback to what it was like around campus after Tyler. The whispers. The sneers. That awful black hole in my stomach. Then and now mix in my head until all I know is I'm done. It's over.

Through the mess of memories, I finally remember how to walk and slowly edge away from the crowd. I didn't bring a coat, thank God, so there's no line for me to wait in: just me and my tiny beaded clutch hightailing it toward the exit. I pass a couple more uniformed door staff, and then I'm out in the freezing night.

So much for my fairy-tale evening.

What will happen when two girls from completely opposite worlds switch places for a semester? Emily is the hard-working one from Oxford University. She's desperate to leave behind the boy who broke her heart, so even if a semester in California doesn't agree with "The Plan", the five-year journey to becoming a lawyer in a prominent firm, she seizes the opportunity and heads out anyways. Natasha, the hard-partying UCSB student is a bit hesitant about switching to Oxford for a semester, I mean, come on, she barely pulls a 3.0 GPA and she's a film major, not political science! But after a certain video in a hot tub with a certain boy that may or may not have been broadcast nationally, she'd do anything to escape the stares and the whispers. So, the two girls find themselves switching places, classes and dorms. In different places, the girls discover that sometimes, it doesn't matter how far you run, because your problems will still catch up to you. Also, embracing a new identity really only means uncovering another part of yourself.

To me, Sophomore Switch was a great novel! Sure it had its cheesy moments but unlike other works of its genre, it still had a little heart to it, and substance. The contrast between the carefree surf-and-sun world of UC Santa Barbara and the uptight, cobblestones of Oxford was really interesting to read, especially so because author Abby McDonald is a real-life graduate of Oxford University. At the beginning of the story I found myself identifying more with Emily, the perfectionist from the European version of an Ivy League, but then Natasha's story of re-invention and learning from past mistakes began to appeal to me. By the end of it, I enjoyed both girls' stories equally and I really appreciated the fact that, with the aid of the wonders of modern technology and IMing, Natasha and Emily became friends and confidantes, even though they've never met in real life. Sometimes, I found the large cast of supporting characters a bit hard to keep track of sometimes, but the new friends and boyfriends (!) that each girl meets on their respective campuses were all unique and definitely more than just cardboard cutouts to keep the plot moving. Sophomore Switch made a great read for the beach or for back-to-school. It's smart, funny and it's got plenty of angst and attractive boys to reel in reluctant readers. Unfortunately, I really can't see a sequel working in the future but even so, I will definitely be re-reading this book again.

I give Abby McDonald's Sophomore Switch four out of five stars.

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