Exchange of Heart – Darren Groth – Penguin Random House Australia – Published 31 July 2017
Sometimes, Life takes on a life of its own…
Since the sudden death of his younger sister, Munro Maddux has been stuck. Flashbacks. Anger. Chest pains. And a voice – taunting, barking, biting – that his counsellor calls ‘the Coyote’. Munro knows a student exchange will not be the stuff of Disney movies. But in Australia he intends to move beyond his troubled past.
Forced by his new school to join a volunteer program, Munro discovers the Coyote is silenced in one place: Fair Go, an assisted living residence in Brisbane’s west, where Munro gets to know his team of residents: dogged designer Bernie; sleeping refugee Shah; would-be wedded couple Blake and Dale; comic creator Iggy; and self-defence tutor Florence. As this unlikely group shows Munro the sights, Munro’s notion of what it means to be a big brother begins to change.
But the burden Munro carries is not so easily cast aside, and unexpected developments at Fair Go prompt a devastating flashback that threatens to end the student exchange. Will the Coyote ultimately triumph? Or can Munro find the fortitude necessary to mend his heart?
There is so much to love about Exchange of Heart. I enjoyed every single minute spent reading this amazing book. Heart, humour, grief, and friendship combine in this moving story.
After the sudden death of his sister, Munro Maddux is desperate to do something to shake the numbness and remove the voice in his head. So he grabs at the opportunity to complete a student exchange program to Australia. Here, he hopes he can find the peace he is searching for. But a volunteering program at his new school has him working at Fair Go, an independent-living residency for young adults with disabilities. Instead of this sparking more trauma and flashbacks, like he expects, being around the residents finally quiets the voice in his head.
I wasn’t expecting to love this book like I did, but it just captured me from the start. Munro is a likeable character and narrator. His sense of humour is a welcome addition to a story that is centred around themes of grief and guilt. But the book retains a wonderful lightness and hopefulness. I was snort-laughing in surprise through the book (rather embarrassing when you are reading in the workplace lunch room) and crying buckets by the end. I thought I might have been able to make it through the book without breaking down but that ending just added layer upon layer of feelings until I couldn’t hold back any more.
Of course I really liked the setting of this book. Munro travels to Australia and stays with a host family in Brisbane. While volunteering at Fair Go, Munro’s team plan and take him on a sightseeing tour, so many iconic places around Brisbane are visited. The familiarity of Brisbane seen through an outsider’s eyes is so much fun to experience.
There is a wonderful host of diverse characters that make up the cast for this book. The residents from Fair Go all shine in this book. Blake, Bernie, Dale, Shah, Iggy, Florence are beautiful, detailed characters and each bring something special to the story, as does the director for the centre, Kelvin. Munro might think he is there to help them, but it is they who help him. In his host brother, Rowan, Munro finds an understanding and supportive friend. Caro is likewise a kind and supportive romantic interest. Munro’s family, both Aussie hosts and parents back in Canada play important roles in Munro’s journey, as, of course, does Evie, who we only see through Munro’s memories. Munro’s internal voice, the Coyote adds another layer to the story, helping the reader to get a better understanding of Munro’s thoughts.
The heart of this book stands out. So many important themes – guilt, grief, disability and people’s treatment of people with a disability, immigration and refugees, family, friendship, and purpose – are all seamlessly wrapped in this story of friendship and healing and Aussie sightseeing.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Friendship, grief, mental health, disabilities and special needs, social themes, student exchange, road trips, family.
Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.
Advisory: Infrequent coarse language, f***, sh**, arse****. Mature themes surrounding death.
Published: 31 July 2017 by Penguin Random House Australia.
Format: Paperback, ebook. 288 pages.