Change Places with Me
Author: Lois Metzger
Publication Date: June 14th, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Synopsis: Rose has changed. She still lives in the same neighborhood with her stepmother and goes to the same high school with the same group of kids, but when she woke up today, something was just a little different than it was before. The dogs who live upstairs are no longer a terror. Her hair and her clothes all feel brand-new. She wants to throw a party—this from a girl who hardly ever spoke to her classmates before. There is no more sadness in her life; she is bursting with happiness.
But something still feels wrong to Rose. Because, until very recently, Rose was an entirely different person—a person who is still there inside her, just beneath the thinnest layer of skin.
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About the Author
Lois Metzger was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of five novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. She lives in New York City with her husband and son.
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Your newest novel, Change Places with Me, sounds beautiful and heartbreaking. Where did you come up with the idea for it?
In my book, when Clara is a little girl, every night at bedtime her dad reads her the story of “Snow White.” Never mind that Clara’s heard it hundreds of times before—she’s always full of questions. One night, just after the part where the Queen disguises herself and gets Snow White to eat a poisoned apple, and the dwarves then find an unresponsive Snow White and can’t revive her, Clara becomes particularly focused on Snow White’s death but not-death.
“She’s in a kind of trance,” her dad tells her.
“Can she see?” Clara asks.
“Her eyes are closed.”
“If she opens her eyes?”
“She’s in a glass coffin. Things would look far away, blurred.”
“Something like that.”
“Can she hear?”
“Sounds would be muffled, too.”
“Like when you’re under water? In the tub I can stick my whole head under and hold my breath.”
At this point Clara’s stepmother, Evelyn, steps in and says that Clara is only asking so many questions to avoid going to sleep. When Clara is eight, her dad dies, leaving her with Evelyn, whom Clara hates. Clara can’t face the grief that threatens to overwhelm her. She seals herself off from the world in a muted, solitary state she thinks of as a glass coffin, a place she can stay, like Snow White, for a long, long time.
Years go by and Clara is 15. One afternoon, something penetrates the thick glass of her glass coffin. Clara is looking down at her phone when she accidentally bumps into someone, a girl about her age. Clara knows she should apologize—it’s Clara’s fault—but the girl gives her “a big, warm open, completely spontaneous smile” and says “Oops.”
All at once Clara feels “an intense surge from her innermost core to the outermost reaches of her being: Change places with me.”
Clara wants to become this other girl because, in her mind, the girl (unlike Clara) of course has lots of friends, and when they all get together time just zips by instead of dragging from one moment to the next, as it does for Clara. And this girl, Clara thinks, is kind and has a big heart, and reaches out to people who are lonely, and everyone remarks on it, on what a good soul she is, and she has parents who are so proud and astounded by how lucky they are, to have a daughter like this.
This kind of moment, wanting to be someone else so intensely you feel it in every cell of your body, was the spark that led to this book. It sometimes used to happen to me as a kid. I can remember seeing someone my age, maybe a little older, who just seemed perfect, so comfortable in her own skin and happy to be alive. I couldn’t help imagining, what if I could be that girl? I’m a big fan of science fiction, and science fiction allowed me to let Clara take the idea of changing herself much further than I ever could.
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