The Exchange by Graham Joyce
The Exchange is Joyce’s second Young Adult novel, and as much as I liked his first, this one is better. All of his novels, for both adults and young adults, fall into what is commonly considered “fantasy.” Don’t let that scare you off, though. There are no vampires, no elves, and very rarely is there even any outright magic. Instead he leads you into the realm of possibility where you can argue that the main characters are just hallucinating and that there’s a scientific explanation for whatever has happened to them. It’s much more fun to just accept it as supernatural and enjoy the story.
This story, The Exchange, focuses on Caz, a fourteen year old girl (Caz is short for Caroline) who spends her life getting up to mischief with her best friend Lucy while her mother sleeps away in a pill-induced haze. Even at the beginning you get the feeling that Caz is restless and not certain that this is the way her life should be going. She meets Lucy late at night to break into people’s homes and do what they call “The Creepy” which is never fully explained but which amounts to hovering at the nose of a sleeping person for fifteen seconds before bolting from the house and laughing maniacally. It’s all becoming routine until one night when the old lady wakes up and curses Caz with a silver bracelet that locks on Caz’s wrist and won’t come off.
It slips off in the night, but it leaves its mark - both on her wrist as a tattoo and in her psyche as hallucinations. She is terrified, a feeling only exacerbated when she is dragged to the “Crazy Jump Around” evangelical church of her mother’s boyfriend. Here, the “Elder” places his finger on her forehead and pronounces that she is possessed by demons. Caz faints dead away and when she wakes her life takes a noticeable turn. Her relationships falter, her sleep is disrupted which makes her appearance decline, and she starts to question what will become of her life -- will she become like the sad old lady who cursed her? An old lady with rotten luck and no friends? Or will she pass it off on someone before too much damage is done and then go on to lead a normal life?
In what can only be described as a coming-of-age story, Joyce has given us a young woman with too much on her fourteen year old plate: a single, chronically depressed mother who has a new and potentially humiliating boyfriend, a best friend who is being abused by her parents, a boyfriend who isn’t sure if he wants to be involved in all that Caz has going on, and a job that forces Caz to toughen up so that she can survive each evening. By the time it comes to its satisfying conclusion you’re rooting for Caz and for every life she touches, and you’re grateful for another amazing Graham Joyce novel.