Chapter Books – Trading Faces

When the plot of a book is as cliched as this one is – identical twins switch places – you already know going into it that this will probably not be a candidate for major literary awards. And yet, I still held out hope for this novel, written by real life identical twin sisters. For the most part, those hopes were not realized.

Sisters Payton and Emma could not be more different. Payton is popular and interested in fashion and fitting. Emma is a nerd and could care less about clothing. They are starting a new middle school, and are shocked to find that they don’t have a single class in common, not even lunch period. Later, when Payton has a mortifying experience, their separate schedules give them the opportunity to switch places.

This is where the first of the plot holes start appearing. Payton, in the throes of embarrassment allows her sister – whom she has repeatedly dismissed as embarrassing in and of herself, and who she believes has the social skills of a gnat – to impersonate her to make the situation better. Why would Payton think Emma could make it better? Sure, it would mean that Payton could avoid the rest of the girls, but she could just as easily do that by going to the nurse’s office, as she does several times in the book. All evidence up to that part of the book points towards Emma compounding the problem.

Next is a problem that many similar books share: the awkward nerd is given a chance to be a part of the in crowd and wows everyone by not only really enjoying herself, but also by knowing more about fashion than everyone else. That’s not how it works in real life. First of all, yes Emma is intelligent and spent hours “researching” tween culture for her role. But that’s not the way a photographic memory works.

Also, I’m not sure why at the beginning both girls are so upset about always being asked “which one are you?” They’re so different, I find it incredibly hard that people would confuse them. Their clothing choices are so significant and signature that when they start switching their outfits, even their parents are confused. And when they do switch places, no one ever calls them by a wrong name, since it’s obvious to them that the scrubby one is Emma and the fashiony one is Payton. Yet the girls angst about this for several pages.

The “lessons learned” are facile as well. It comes as no surprise at the end that after pretending to be the other sister the smart twin starts wearing makeup and the fashion twin starts paying more attention to schoolwork. What a shock! Granted, some of their differences might stem from an unconscious desire to create their own unique identity by being what the other is NOT, and that after all they’ve been through the girls now feel more comfortable as themselves, with less need to be radically different. But somehow, I got the impression that the book ended with this melding simply because that is how this sort of book is “supposed” to end.

All in all, this book was like cotton candy: it tastes okay for the first few bites, but then gets thrown up when you ride too many carnival rides. There is a certain type of reader – including myself as a child – that will not care what the writing is like as long as there are mistaken identities and look-alike twins.

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