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Switched by Amanda Hocking

Some times you inadvertently lay yourself open to a world of hurt. It’s just one of those things you have to learn to live with. As regular readers will have gathered, I follow the publishing world, looking for the elusive hot authors and the best books of the year. Most of the time, I manage to hit the middle of the road, finding books that are of a reasonable standard. As you supporters of Sturgeon’s Law might expect, the best are very rare birds. A reasonable standard is a good result. But my eye was attracted to the phenomenon that is Amanda Hocking. Here’s a self-published author who’s leapt from obscurity to millionaire in one of these fairytale stories the mass media believe will sell their newspapers and television shows. Blaming the advent of the internet, the pundits have it that this author is another of the Beatle moments. You may remember them as a group of musicians who managed to sell a few records but, when starting out, they were turned down by a major record label. So this story is that the publishers know nothing. They too rejected this author and she’s proved them wrong by putting her e-books on Amazon. Up to the end of 2011, she had sold 150,000 of her books. That’s not small potatoes, particularly because she’s not paying commission to an agent or living from the royalties a publisher would pay. Now, of course, the publishing world has come to her door with St Martin’s Griffin winning the short straw. The big publish house is acting quite rationally. If there’s money to be made from an existing author brand, why turn it away. No matter what the actual quality of the content, they can package it and put it on shelves.

At this point, I admit to a prejudice against books written for children and young adults. I unthinkingly read them when I was young. Having managed to make it into adulthood, I prefer to spend my time reading books aimed at adults. So, having asked for the chance to review “a Hocking”, I was stunned when I began reading Switched. This is clearly written at a level twelve-year old girls would enjoy. Even the English is simple, uncomplicated and, at times, ungrammatical so the young readers never have to stop and ask themselves what anything means. For example, “I wandered around the house, but not intentionally.” I would like to see someone walk unintentionally without the aid of a hypnotist or some other person affecting their willpower. Or, “Finn led me through the house and down a hall I didn’t even know existed.” This is wonderful. In the present tense, she’s walking down a hall but she does not know it exists. I could go on but this would be unkind to the people in the publishing house tasked with the editing task.

Amanda Hocking, current Queen of the self-pushing industry

Then we get to the first-person narrative. This is a teenage girl who feels she doesn’t fit into her life. She’s been thrown out of previous schools and is on her last chance when she notices a young boy, Finn, he of the “. . .eyes framed by dark lashes”. I’m not sure what that looks like when the lashes go all the way round the eye, but it can’t be pretty. This is the stereotypical YA love interest for our virginal girl to lust after for the rest of the book. In American YA, the message is always abstinence. This book actually goes further and seems to warn against any kind of active fraternisation with the enemy sex. The usual holding hands or hugging is clearly out. Even being with a boy unchaperoned can lead to serious complications. Who’d be a Trylle — that’s troll misspelt to make it sound better to younger ears? No-one would actually want to be a troll, internet or fairy story, but Amanda Hocking creates a world of wealth and privilege that would tempt any young girl. Add in the fantasy of a dark-haired, brooding boy and you have the perfect nest for dreams. Except, these Trylles are actually running the ultimate baby scam. What they do is switch their own baby cuckoos with the babies of the richest parents they can find. When these changelings come of age, they are brought back into the Trylle “family” and it collects all the wealth by inheritance.

When our heroine meets her natural mother, there’s little or no attempt to explain anything. Like all adults in YA books, she’s suffering major problems in the level of her intelligence and general ability to empathise with the young. Only two adults are interested in her. One does offer some useful advice and the other wants to get her into bed. Finn and two other young men are the real sources of information. Even so, she’s left to guess what’s happening and constantly makes mistakes. What makes this worse is that these Trylles are supposed to have supernatural powers, but only a very small percentage of the adults can manage anything significant. In every way, these adults are pitiful specimens. Naturally, there has to be a problem and this is provided by another group called the Vittra. They want our heroine and, finding little or no security in place, attempt a kidnapping. Finn and several others combine to drive them away. This leads to a slight breach of protocol and our younger lovers lie down together BUT NOTHING HAPPENS, OK?!? There’s not even a hint of getting to first base, let alone scoring a home run. This is a faintly supernatural romance for young girls, remember.

To say I failed to find any redeeming features in Switched would be the understatement of the year so far. I can only assume the word of mouth that sold the e-books was among young girls who were able to afford the maximum $2.99 for a book. Presumably this book will continue to sell into the same market and more strength to Amanda Hocking, say I. It’s a good thing to be able to get the young to read anything. The fact that I, an old and curmudgeonly man, think it rubbish is neither here nor there. It’s money in the bank.

I requested that a copy of this book be sent to me for review.

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