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His First Bra

The Swap, by Megan Shull. Jack and Ellie both needed a change. Boy did they ever get one.

His First Bra

BOOK REPORT for The Swap by Megan Shull

Cover Story: A Mile in My Shoes
Drinking Buddy/BFF Charm: Dude!/You Go, Girl!
Testosterone Level/Swoonworthy Scale: Ahem...
Talky Talk: Strong Characters Overcome Weak Plot
Bonus Factor: Gender-Bending Shenanigans
Bromance Status/Relationship Status: Let Us Never Speak of This Again

Cover Story: A Mile in My Shoes

Props to the designer for not having a cover with a hunky teen boy sitting with his legs crossed and his hands neatly folded, next to a cute girl picking her teeth and scratching herself.

The Deal:

Thirteen-year-old Jack is the youngest of four brothers, an up and coming hockey star, and the cutest boy in school (something he's comically unaware of). But things aren't great. His mother passed away a year ago and his father has lost all sense of humor. His four sons will be perfectly obedient manly men. That means addressing him as 'Sir.' Five AM runs. Beds to be made with hospital corners. And no breaking the rules. Ever.

Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Ellie doesn't know what to do. Her father has abandoned the family. Sassy, her BFF since kindergarten (yes, her name really is 'Sassy'), is suddenly in full on middle school bitch mode, making fun of Ellie and running with the popular crowd. Ellie knows if she was just a little prettier, if she acted just a little cooler, Sassy would be her friend again. Things could go back to the way they were before.

When Jack and Ellie both wind up in the school clinic at the same time, they kind of hit it off. Since they're both having a shitty day, Jack offhandedly mentions maybe they should change lives. The school nurse overhears this and somehow casts a spell, causing the two to swap bodies.

The nurse has vanished, school is over, and Jack and Ellie know no one will believe them. They're forced to go to each other's home and spend the weekend in the wrong body, hoping that the nurse can set everything to rights on Monday morning.

What could go wrong?

Drinking Buddy/BFF Charm: Dude!/You Go, Girl!

Now obviously this plot is totally ridiculous. We're never told how the nurse switched the two, or why. Jack and Ellie never worry that she can't or won't change them back. But the book is saved from absurdity by two genuinely likeable characters.

Jack, despite his good looks and jock attitude, is terrified of girls. Ellie, still stinging from her parents' divorce and Sassy's cruelty, doesn't realize she's pretty and has other friends.

And while the pair are terrified of the havoc the other is surely wreaking on their life, they both make a real effort not to screw things up for each other.

They totally screw things up, of course, but not maliciously.

Testosterone Level/Swoonworthy Scale: Ahem...

I know what you're thinking, but this is a middle grade book, starring a seventh and an eighth grader. Jack and Ellie play nice in each other's body, even going so far as to bathe without removing their underwear (and in Jack's case, his bra). Aside from some jokes about Ellie experiencing morning wood and Jack talking with Ellie's doctor about her period, this is all pretty PG-13 stuff.

But you have to wonder what went on between scenes...

I mean, Ellie's got to be a little curious, right? And Jack's a total horndog, obsessing about each girl he meets (including, unfortunately, Ellie's attractive, huggy mother). And when Jack first met Ellie, he said she was great looking.

I somehow doubt a thirteen-year-old boy would pass up the chance to look at real boobies, even if they were his own.

Talky Talk: Strong Characters Overcome Weak Plot

This book did have some problems. The supernatural aspect is never explained. Every male character talks in such bizarre slang it's almost impossible to understand. It's fairly obvious the kids will solve the other one's problems and learn something along the way.

But Jack and Ellie are likeable, funny kids who actually kind of make the best of their situation. Ellie likes her suddenly popularity, being able to do two-hundred pushups, and having brothers. Jack enjoys having a mother again, being able to eat junk food, and sleeping late (though old habits die hard. On his first morning as Ellie, Jack gets up and cleans her messy room).

The book held few surprises, but Jack and Ellie were engaging enough to keep me interested to the end.

Bonus Factor: Gender-Bending Shenanigans

Shull does a good job of avoiding the clichés you see in this sort of plot. I expected Ellie to break down crying in front of Jack's hockey team because she broke a nail, or for Jack to punch out some guy who tried to hold his hand. Actually, the kids are willing to go the extra mile not to be discovered. Ellie kind of enjoys running at dawn and bashing heads in the hockey rink. Jack submits to a mommy-daughter day of shopping and beauty treatments. He doesn't like it...but he doesn't hate it. And when he's forced to go to a slumber party with a bunch of girls from school...well, he has to do it, right? I mean, for Ellie's sake.

And this is only for a weekend, so things are easier to fake. Jack's brothers chalk his odd behavior up to a blow to the head in hockey practice and cover for him with their father. Ellie's mother thinks she's being morose and quiet because of Sassy and her parents' divorce.

This isn't a profound book, but it is funny.

Bromance Status/Relationship Status: Let Us Never Speak of This Again

Yeah, I'm not exactly running out to tell the world I read a gender swap book for middle schoolers. But I kind of had fun with it. Just don't tell anyone.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.