Exchange of Heart
Written by Darren Groth
Published in Australia by Penguin Random House
RRP: $19.99 (AUD)

Munro Maddux arrives on a plane from Vancouver, Canada, to start a six-month student exchange program. He will be in year 11 at Sussex State High School with his host family’s son, Rowan. It is obvious from the beginning that Munro is escaping from something, and that is the death of his younger sister Evie. Thirteen-year-old Evie had Down syndrome, and an inoperable hole in the heart. She died after collapsing at school. Munro shares this information with his host family but no one else in Australia knows. Coyote, his “hateful sidekick” (p. 77), reminds him regularly. Coyote is the name Munro has given to the voice that has plagued him since Evie’s death, along with flashbacks, eruptions of anger, chest pains and a pain in his right hand. It is obvious to his new friends that Munro has some issues, but they do not find out the cause until well into the narrative. Some are supportive, others not so. As part of the school program the students are assigned a role in the compulsory volunteering program. Munro is assigned the role of Living Partner at the Fair Go Community Village. The village, an assisted living residence, has 20 residents aged between 18 and 25. Munro’s task will be to get to know five of the residents, listen and talk with them. Initially he tries to avoid the assigned role, but after being interviewed and accepted by his group of five, Munro begins to get to know his charges. They are an interesting group, full of personality and grit. They decide to show Munro the sites of Brisbane, however Munro gets more from this group than sightseeing tours. The Coyote does not emerge during these times and Munro begins to change. But his exchange is jeopardised with his willingness to help one of his group outside the designated times. Munro must face the consequences of his choices and actions.

This is a realistic look at grief from a different perspective. Munro is not just dealing with grief here but the feeling of letting down his sister, for not being able to save her. Written in first person, the narrative is entirely from Munro’s perspective. He is a likeable but angry young man. I always felt like he was going to pull through though, and I liked his persistence and tenacity. Although the central theme is grief and some sections are incredibly sad, there are also lighter moments with witty and entertaining dialogue.

Highly recommended for teen readers, this is one I will enjoy promoting in my library.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for sending this book for review.