Darren Groth, Exchange of Heart, Random House Australia, 31 July 2017, 275pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780143781578
Canadian Munro Maddux had a sister with Down’s Syndrome, and he blames himself for her early death. To face his grief, and the plaguing voice inside him which he calls the Coyote, he arrives in Brisbane as an exchange student. His new family welcomes him, he makes a circle of friends, his high school is caring. So why doesn’t the Coyote go away? Munro, at first reluctantly, but later with enthusiasm, volunteers to work in a community of disabled young people, Fair Go, and he finds that it is with them that he feels most grounded.
Groth has worked and lived with disabled students, and the novel rings with authenticity. These people are difficult, funny, perceptive and aware of the prejudice that is often displayed against them. They learn to stand up for themselves and make the best of it, and Munro’s attitudes are more enlightened and aware than those they usually meet. In this group Munro can work through his problems.
Everything seems to come together at the end of Munro’s stay, perhaps a little too comfortably than could be expected in real life, but Groth has succeeded in challenging his young readers’ conventional feelings towards the disabled. He writes with both humour and seriousness in an unconventional area.
Reviewed by Stella Lees