I have to say I really ummed and ahhed for a while as to whether I should review this book. As some of you will know Paul Magrs is the Chair of The Green Carnation Prize (the shortlist will be announced in a week, which has come round very quickly) which I am one of the judges and co-founding members of. So I was worried that if I loved it, and I did like it lots, that people might think I was being biased through knowing the author. I don’t want people thinking that I would be biased towards an author on any account so I just wanted to clear that up before we go forward. So lets talk about this book, which if you are a lover books – and lets face it if you have popped by here then you must be – will be right up your street.
When I picked up ‘Exchange’ in a book shop a few years ago I will be honest and admit that I hadn’t heard of Paul Magrs before and had never read his ‘Brenda and Effie’ series, which I now love, I initially really liked the cover and then when I read the blurb I knew I had to pick it up from the line “united by their voracious appetite for novels, Simon and his grandmother stumble across the Great Big Book Exchange – a bookshop with a difference.” I was sold not only because it was a book about books and bookshops but also because Simon and his voracious reading Granny sounded a little bit familiar…
We meet Simon as he walks the streets with an old ladies shopping trolley, the initial protagonist of ‘Exchange’, following the death of his parents. He’s a bit of an outsider as well as an orphan. I will admit as soon as I read that I almost inwardly groaned. I have an issue with novels that start with orphans as they have become a cliché today and simply a good way to get rid of the parents so the kids can go and have some marvellous adventures. ‘Exchange’ is different because it actually looks at the emotional turmoil that bereavement can leave behind not only in the deceased’s 16 year old son but in their parents too as we discover when Simon moves in with his grandparents (Winnie and Ray).
It’s the love of books between him and his Gran which both furthers their bond and helps them move forward and escape the real world of grief after such an event especially when they accidentally discover ‘The Great Big Book Exchange’ and its owner Terence and assistant Kelly, who starts a touching relationship with Simon. Its this moment that becomes a catalyst in their lives and also turns the tale to Winnie and her childhood with the now world famous Ada Jones giving insight into what makes a writer and what makes a reader. So as you can see there is a lot going on and I haven’t even covered the burning of books either by Granddad Ray who after years of being married to a reader flips. I was weirdly expecting something magical to happen, I don’t know why this was, but instead you just have a charming story with no bells and whistles, it’s just a lovely tale.
I won’t give anything more away, I think it will suffice to say that it’s an entertaining and heart felt read which will appeal to anyone who loves books, books about books and the people who love books. I did have one tiny sticking point with the book exchange itself as I wasn’t sure about how it worked as you signed up, paid some money borrowed some books and then got some money back when you brought them back. I just thought with libraries and charity shops why would you exchange and what if you wanted to keep one as Winnie does? I have heard that there are such places though. I actually think this book will appeal to adults and teenage readers alike. 8/10
I was quite freaked out about book loving Simon and his book loving Gran and their adventures to book shops and tearooms being so like me at 16… and even now at 28! I wondered if you had ever read a book and thought ‘ooh that’s so like my life’ and if so what was it? Have any of you found a book exchange and how did it work? Who else has read this? Which other fictional books, I have some non fiction but you can recommend those too, embrace the world of books and reading that I might have missed out on?
I bought this book myself a few years ago.