Tess is a reasonably distant and lonely child, who takes long walks out into the forest and park lands each day, returning home each evening to somewhat bemused parents. They don’t believe anything is seriously wrong with their child despite the fact she has no friends — they just think she’s a loner that loves the outdoors. But it just so happens that Tess is very different from other teenagers, and harbors a secret that she keeps from every other person on the planet. She has had the ability from a very early age to change into any animal she desires, and her daily walks into the wilderness are due to her transformations and adventures in animal form. It is a wonderful life as a “Switcher,” and she’s not lonely — just alone.
Until one day, when a boy begins to follow her home from the bus station and utters some terrifying words: “I know who you are. I know what you can do…” Who is this elusive Kevin and what does he want from Tess? Terrified that the fellow Switcher will reveal her secret, and suspecting that the “help” that he asks for has something to do with the steadily growing cold front that is moving southwards from the north pole and destroying all human-life in its wake, Tess agrees to accompany him to someone who knows what’s going on.
This someone is an old lady named Lizzie, a former Switcher who tells the children about krools — monstrous creatures that are slowly pulling the earth back into an ice age. Whilst dodging the police and the government airforces, Kevin and Tess take it upon themselves to use their shapeshifting powers to stop the krools. But a person’s Switching abilities cease when one turns fifteen, and Kevin’s birthday is steadily approaching…
Switchers is a book that is initially difficult to get into. The idea of people changing into animals is a well-trod path in children’s literature, and for a long while it seemed that this was just another rehash of what has gone before. Tess and Kevin are a little difficult to connect with — both are quite distant, and it’s rather implausible that Tess would choose to leave her home and her parents in order to follow someone she barely knows to an unknown destination. Lizzie is also a bit of a tired cliche (crazy old lady with lots of cats) and there are a few scenes that are unnecessary or stretch on a bit to long (Tess and Kevin’s escapades as goats, for example).
But the book drastically improves as time goes on. The “Switcher” device is put to excellent use as the story continues, with the children instigating their powers to travel swiftly, hide from the police, to bear the terrible Artic cold and to finally defeat the krools and escape human bombing — each transformation is more ingenious than the last. To tell would be spoiling it — half the fun of this book is realising what great plan the children will come up with next.
So although you may be dubious at first, stick with it as Switchers and its two sequels Midnight’s Choice and Wild Blood are immensely satisfying and rewarding, just below the likes of J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander, but on the shelf next to Tanith Lee, Sherwood Smith, Nancy Springer and other fantasy authors of this calibre.
Switchers — (1997-1999) Young adult. Publisher: Tess is a switcher — she can take on the form of any animal she chooses. But she must be alone, as is true of all Switchers. Soon she realizes that Kevin is also a Switcher who has been summoned to save the Northern Hemisphere from being destroyed. And Kevin needs Tess’s help to do it.