First-time novelist McDonald skewers college life in this comic novel that has an uptight Oxford student switching places with a University of California party girl. Both are eager to flee their home campuses: Tasha is trying to dodge publicity surrounding her hot-tub antics with a TV star (aka "Tubgate"), and Emily has just been dumped ("As much as I-and my liberated, post-third-wave feminist self-hate to admit it.... This is all because of Sebastian"). A global exchange program seems the perfect escape, but creates more problems than it solves. While Emily has trouble loosening up in Santa Barbara (she had intended to spend the semester at Harvard), Tasha struggles to convince her peers and professor that she has a functional brain. McDonald plays with stereotypical images of Americans and Brits, painting both in broad strokes, but also challenges standard definitions of feminism. Though the protagonists' traumas, romantic interests and growing self-awareness are perhaps too neatly paralleled, the characters' strong personalities and the book's easy sense of humor will keep readers entertained. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Jeanna Sciarrotta
In a not so typical "switch places" kind of story, LA-based Natasha finds herself attending the prestigious Oxford University, while organized and at times neurotic Emily enrolls in UC Santa Barbara. Though both girls are looking to escape their personal boy drama, neither is prepared for life on the other end. Tasha is working hard to conceal an identity she hopes she left back in the past or at least in the states. Emily, on the other hand, hopes to uncover the identity that she never knew she had. Forced to take over each other's courses, living situations, and overall lifestyles, neither Emily nor Tasha really knew what to expect. Sophomore Switch is a fast-paced novel, complete with boy drama, superficial friends, and, of course, just a little bit of trouble. This novel, which is at times predictable, is sure to be well received by teenage girls. Though the characters are all in college, the content of the novel is light enough for most high school students. Reviewer: Jeanna Sciarrotta
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
Both Tasha, a California beach babe who prefers fun in the sun to studying in the library, and Emily, her British polar opposite, are forced out of their comfort zones in this amusing story of a student exchange gone wrong. The only thing that these girls have in common is that they are both trying to escape something. For Tasha, it's the embarrassment of baring it all (literally) online and the reputation that follows. For Emily, it's an ex-boyfriend and, hopefully, her control-freak ways that caused the split. Now they are living one another's lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Can laid-back Tasha survive an intense course load and disapproving classmates at rigorous Oxford? Can Emily loosen up and learn how to be spontaneous and casual? This is a quick, enjoyable read about how finding oneself often requires leaving behind everything familiar and embracing the unfamiliar. It is also about discovering that the people you think you have the least in common with are sometimes the ones you can truly trust, as well as learn from. Tasha and Emily demonstrate that although they cannot change the past, they can accept it and become better people because of it. McDonald does an excellent job of presenting these lessons in a humorous and entertaining manner.-Robyn Zaneski, New York Public Library
When Tasha's hot-tub exploits hit the tabloids and Emily's boyfriend dumps her, they both look for a quick escape from college. An exchange program provides an opportunity, provided they do a complete swap: Tasha's sunny U.C. Santa Barbara for Emily's Oxford in chilly England. Tasha, a blond, tan party-girl, vows to make the most of top-tier Oxford by staying away from booze and sticking to her studies. Emily, an anal-retentive academic all-star, wants to loosen up and enjoy the beachy scene at UCSB. The girls supply funny, self-deprecating narration in alternating chapters, and their distinct voices highlight marked differences in attitudes and aesthetics. When both suffer humiliation attempting to fit in, they e-mail each other for help. What seems like a formulaic plot takes interesting, unexpected directions as the girls navigate unfamiliar terrain, face unexpected cruelties and discover new parts of themselves. Important questions emerge from this frothy novel: Can't smart girls embrace frivolity, beauty and sexuality without guilt? Can't they have fun and be serious too? McDonald cleverly answers. Her ostensibly simple, bubble-gum debut is actually chock-full of substance. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
"Can’t smart girls embrace frivolity, beauty, and sexuality without guilt?
Can’t they have fun and be serious too? McDonald cleverly answers." — Kirkus Reviews - Starred review
Read an Excerpt
This is so not a good idea.
I'm barely five minutes into my first class of the semester when it hits me just how bad an idea this is. Sure, it's not "getting into the hot tub with Tyler Trask while the cameras are rolling" bad, but then what is? I would have to search the world for the people who decided Crocs were a cute shoe concept before I found an idea as bad as that, but taking my semester abroad placement at Oxford University when I barely scrape a 3.0 GPA? Way up there on the dumb-ass rankings.
". . . By now, you'll all be familiar with the basic texts on the reading list . . ."
I glance down at the dense two-page list they included in my exchange information pack, full of titles like Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, and have to remind myself to breathe. I only arrived in England a couple of days ago, but apparently hell waits for no girl, even if she's suffering killer jet lag.
". . . And we've got a new face with us. Natasha Collins, welcome."
My head jerks up, and I look around to find the group staring at me. Instead of the packed, anonymous lecture halls I'm used to back home, I'm sitting in a dim, wood-paneled room, one of a group of just ten students balanced on battered couches and overstuffed armchairs.
"Would you like to introduce yourself?" Professor Susanne Elliot asks, her salt-and-pepper hair falling around a face that, back home, would have been Botoxed into oblivion.
"Umm, sure," I begin. "I'm Tash - Natasha," I correct myself. I keep forgetting, Tasha is no more: the version of myself I left giggling and drunk in that hot tub. "I'm here from UCSB for the semester."
"UCSB?" Elliot repeats, frowning. Yep - definitely no Botox.
"University of California?" I explain hesitantly. "I go to school in Santa Barbara."
"Oh." Elliot seems surprised. She shuffles her papers, searching for something. "We don't usually exchange with that university."
"It was a kind of last-minute thing." I begin to pick the clear varnish on my thumb nail and ignore the amused looks my classmates are exchanging. I don't know why they have to be so snobby about it. I mean, sure, it's not Stanford, but the UC system is totally second tier!
"Santa Barbara," the professor repeats. "And what were you studying there?" She looks over her thin wire-rimmed glasses at me.
"I'm . . . undeclared." My discomfort grows. Technically that's not quite true, but if I'd told the Global Exchange crew what my classes were, they'd have put me on some kind of international blacklist and branded me unfit for study.
"Well." She pauses. "Welcome to Oxford. I'm sure you'll find Theory of Politics very . . . interesting." She moves on to talk about research-paper schedules, but I catch the slight smirk all the same.
Sinking back in my seat, I sneak a look at my classmates. Dressed in an assortment of preppy sweaters, Oxford shirts, and neat jeans, they look totally at ease: nodding along and exchanging familiar smiles, but then again - they would. They've all spent the past year and a half bonding over dusty library books and term papers while I was five thousand miles away, blowing off classes to hang at the beach and shop. I may have a great tan and awesome bargain-hunting skills, but somehow I don't think those will count for much here.
". . . So I suppose that's all. Any questions?" Professor Elliot looks at us expectantly.
I had plenty. "What the hell am I doing here?" for a start and "Why didn't I just go volunteer in Guatemala like my mom suggested?" I'd been so focused on getting out of California, I hadn't really thought about what would come next.
"I have one." The sporty blond girl beside me raises her hand a little. "Will we be starting with power theory or basic ideological distinctions?"
"I thought I'd leave that up to you. Everyone?"
They all pitch in with enthusiastic suggestions while I smooth down my denim skirt (which is officially three inches shorter than anything my classmates probably own) and wish for the twenty-eighth time since my flight landed that I could take it all back. Not the "leaving the States" part, of course. That was a given. I mean, Christmas in L.A. was bad enough (with Mom and the stepdad alternating their silent treatment with plenty of "we're so disappointed in you" lectures), but when I got back to school, the gossip was worse than ever.
So what could I do? I didn't want to just drop out of college. I may have chosen keg parties over studying and put more thought into first-date outfits than any of my papers, but I'm no quitter. And more than that, I couldn't stand the symbolism - if I dropped out, it would look like it really had all been my fault. Ever since Tubgate, I'd been walking around with a smile on my face, pretending I was cool with what they were saying. The whispers. The tabloid lies. Dropping out altogether would be like admitting I felt dirty and ashamed, and there was no freaking way I would give them all that satisfaction.
So even though the semester had already started, I begged the exchange program, calling that stuck-up administrator every day until she finally broke down and told me that they'd had a mix-up with some girl at Oxford who still needed a spot. And although I didn't meet their oh-so-high Ivy League grade requirements, she could let me go if it was a straight swap: my classes for hers, my roommate for her dorm. School hadn't even started back over there, so I wouldn't miss a day. Nearly three whole months in England. Perfect.
But now I'm stuck in a room full of people who were probably high-school valedictorians instead of spirit-squad captains; I'm struggling to even follow the intro talk, let alone the classes themselves, and I have to ask myself . . .