Ethan Miller, the hero of Changers Book One: Drew by husband-and-wife team T Cooper and Alison Glock-Cooper, doesn’t expect his first day of high school to be the most fun thing ever. He’s the new kid in town (the fictional Genesis, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville), he has no friends, and he’s worried that algebra might cut into his skateboarding time, but he feels ready, even a little excited, to make a fresh start. Then, on the morning of his first day of ninth grade, he wakes up to discover that he’s one of an ancient race of humans—Changers—who live out each year of high school as a different person, an identity that must be kept secret. To Ethan’s horror, he’s also morphed overnight into a petite blonde girl, and his name is now Drew Bohner.
So begins Ethan-now-Drew’s journey toward maturity, told through entries in a telepathic diary called the Chronicle, which is monitored by the Changers Council. Through Drew’s eyes, Cooper and Glock-Cooper tell a heartwarming, harrowing, and often uproariously funny fantasy tale that includes all the pitfalls and stumbling blocks of real-life adolescence. Battles of conflicting feelings rage as Drew attempts to balance academics with extracurricular activities and social life. Her natural, conversational narration is pitch-perfect for a contemporary teenager, lightly peppered with slang and the occasional mild expletive: “What I can’t deal with, if I’m honest, is the fact that, for what seemed like a century today, I was transfixed by a guy smiling in a shop. Who am I? One of the Brontë sisters?” she asks herself. “I gotta stay the hizell away from that.”
Like any young adult, Drew can’t solve every problem, but—as all teenagers also know—adults don’t always have the answers, either, including Drew’s father, the other Changer in her family, and Tracy, the mentor assigned to her by the Changers Council. Through all the ups and downs, Drew surprises herself with her own abilities and resilience. As her sense of autonomy matures, so does her critical perspective, and the result is an object lesson in empathy, especially regarding gender roles and gender equality. Having been both male and female, Drew sees firsthand the disparity between teachers’ expectations for boys and girls, and the excruciating emphasis on appearance and social mobility in the adolescent girl’s world is thrown into stark relief. Exasperated, she concludes “[I]f this whole Changer mission is about improving the human race by making everyone kinder or more understanding or some crap, then they shouldn’t have involved teenage girls.”
Drew is the first novel in a series of four. As our heroine learns from a guidebook called The Changers Bible, she will wake up as another person at the start of the next school year. The authors have done an impressive job of integrating this fantastic element into an otherwise realistic story, convincingly explaining how a race of shape-shifting people could remain mostly unnoticed for centuries. Through Drew, readers are also drawn into a broader conflict between the Changers, a group of hostile non-Changers called Abiders, and a group of Radical Changers who want to expose the Changer race, no matter the consequences—more details of which will be revealed in later volumes.
Drew is a perfect read for a young adult: warm and humorous without being superficial or saccharine, engaging real issues of teenage life with ease and natural grace, and offering an element of fantasy accurately reflecting the wonder and terror of growing up.
Tagged: Children & YA