I’m really excited to share this mega post with y’all today, with not only an interview with Danika about Switchback, her upcoming survival story YA novel, but also an INTL giveaway and my own review!
Switchback is such a cool novel and I really really enjoyed it. It’s something I think a lot of younger teens will adore with its more lighthearted take on survival and a really strong friendship story.
(Oh, did I also mention a badass aroace main character?!)
I’m so happy to share all of this with you today, so let’s dive right into the interview with Danika!!
Hi Danika! It’s great to have you on the blog today. I’m so excited for Switchback and wanted to first start with a little bit about Switchback and how Ashton and Vale have ended up lost in the Canadian wilderness?
The book starts with a class Physical Education class heading out on an overnight camping trip. The trouble is, the fall weather is just starting to turn, and while hiking, the fog fills up the valley, and visibility drops. As rain turns to snow—obscuring the path—Ash and Vale become separated from the rest of the group, missing the turn-off on the trail that leads to the campground. Instead, they head deep into the mountains, eventually losing the trail altogether.
One of the things that really attracted me to Switchback was the survival story element! I’m admittedly not the most avid fan of survival stories, but I end up watching a lot with my mom, and they’ve ended up growing on me. What made you choose this distinct setting to frame Ash & Vale’s story, and how did it contribute to their growth throughout?
Waterton Park is my family’s longtime home. We still own the same cabin my great-grandfather built in the 1920s! It’s very remote, and because of the height of the mountains, cell phone reception is unreliable. The forests are full of animals, and at certain times of year—like the autumn—chance encounters are very common. These elements make Waterton the perfect spot to have characters lost. With all the challenges, Ash and Vale must learn to rely on one another, since surviving in this locale, under these conditions, is a true physical and emotional challenge.
I’ve also heard amazing things about the asexual characters in Switchback and find it really amazing we’re getting more rep of this in YA. How do you hope this will impact #OwnVoices readers and what other ace YA books would you recommend?
I am so grateful with how Vale is being embraced! Her journey—as an aroace teen—was so important for me to portray and I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reactions. I hope that aroace readers will see themselves in Vale’s struggles, and her success at overcoming challenges—in both her emotional experience and physical journey—will inspire them!
If you haven’t read Claire Kann’s amazing YA Let’s Talk About Love, then you must! Alice is such a wonderful, complex character. You will be rooting for her the whole way!
P.E. is quite a time–I never took P.E. in high school (only online physical education, which is as cringey as it sounds) but what would you say are some of the hallmarks of the class for Ash and Vale? Are they avid fans, or staunch avoiders, or something in between?
P.E. is Vale’s worst class and she dreads every moment of it—not because of the physical activity, but because of her classmates. Bullying is something she faces on a day-to-day basis. The only thing that makes the class moderately tolerable is her best friend: Ash. He’s not particularly athletic, but he’s fun and makes the best of any situation. He has a unique gift of “rolling with the punches” and his self-depreciation deflects the bullies who go after him. In PE, he likes the lack of homework. But the idea of camping terrifies him!
Now for a fun one! If you were Vale & Ashton’s situation–with the same supplies and everything–but alone, what do you think you’d end up doing? Would you try to find a way back or make a fire or signal someone? I definitely don’t think I’d be very good at surviving, ahaha!
I’m lucky because I grew up in the area and my grandfather actually trapped in the valley where Ash and Vale get lost. If I was in their situation, I’d stay put, build a big fire, and wait. Honestly—that’s the best thing you can do if you’re lost in the mountains. Trying to find your way back, especially if that takes you further into the mountains, just makes things worse.And yes… walking deeper into the mountains is exactly what Ash and Vale do. Ha ha!
Keep reading for my review!
I realize that this is a very niche sort of book—getting lost in the wilderness—but Switchback is a survival story that is both entertaining, with high stakes, and still geared towards a more lighthearted & younger YA audience.
It’s not only a survival story of two teens who get lost in the Rocky mountain range, but it’s also a story of two friends who learns about themselves, their places in the world, and what it means to be friends.
I personally really enjoyed this more lighthearted take on a survival story, and although it isn’t super dark, it still has intense stakes, which I really enjoyed! There were a lot of reasons why I loved this, and although I think some people will definitely not enjoy it as much as I did, it’s really up to you and what type of reader you are.
I thought the friendship story mixed with survival story made a really good contrast.
It’s part of why Switchback is on the lighter side of the range of survival stories out there. The way the survival story (which can lean on the darker side as the protagonists starve, freeze, and overall suffer) contrasted with the “finding out what it really means to be friends” story (as Ash and Vale learn to really trust each other) helped Switchback keep a lighter tone that I think helps it appeal a lot to younger readers.
Although still dangerous (bears and hypothermia and so much more) it still leaned on the lighter side of survival (no cannibalistic thoughts is a plus), and I feel like some people (*cough* adults) will scorn Switchback a little because of this.
But I think middle schoolers and younger teens and older teens will find a fun story in Switchback, so for me, it’s a job well done on Stone’s part.
Ash and Vale are individually entertaining and light hearted protagonists—Ash with his gaming (which, if you’re super into gaming, I could see how his narration might be irritating/over the top) and Vale with her general feel of not fitting in, but pushing through.
They’re individual and unique and are part of why Switchback feels the way it is. Their voices give life and light to what could have been a super dark story.
The individual struggles were really strong.
Starting with Vale, I think her story of not fitting in with high school and feeling like a loner is something a lot of people can relate to. A lot of teens can feel like loners even within their own friend groups, and so having Vale’s struggles put on the page was really great.
Another thing I really enjoyed about her story was how Vale was still in the closet about being aro/ace. I realize that yeah, boo for the world being sucky enough that not everyone can be out, but I think this is a particular facet of queerness that we do not get a lot of in YA.
Vale is in the closet for the whole story, although she does come out to a few people. I think Stone was able to really show teens that yeah, we want you to be happy, but it’s also okay to not be out. It’s okay to find your safe spaces online.
This is what I really loved about Vale’s story, and I really appreciate how Stone made this part of the novel.
Plus, Ash was also a really fun contrast. Although he’s got less growth happening and he acts as a comic relief for a large portion (with his jokes and gaming talk), he’s still got a lot to learn about being a good friend, and I enjoyed this and thought it sent a good message.
Overall, I really enjoyed Switchback and would definitely recommend it as a strong younger YA.
I realize that not everyone is going to enjoy it, but I do think a lot of teens & middle schoolers will find this story fun, so mission accomplished!
I’d totally recommend Switchback for anyone looking for
- Queer younger YA (aroace rep for the win!) about a still closeted teen
- Something similar to I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall (but more friendship and less dark)
- A fun but still dangerous survival story
Thank you so much to Fierce Reads & Danika Stone for sending me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!
Vale, as much as she loves camping, is not looking forward to the hike with her PE class. Not because of the nature, but because she feels so isolated from the rest of her class. Luckily, her best friend Ash is coming along, although he’s definitely not the camping type.
However, when things go awry and Vale and Ash end up stranded in the wilderness, separated from their class, what should have been a light school field trip turns into a much more dangerous adventure.
Vale and Ash will not only have to survive, but they’ll also have to learn to trust each other in their times of greatest need, inside and out of the wilderness.
Content Warnings: The content of Switchback is more exciting than gruesome. Trigger warnings for bullying and body-shaming (early on in the book) should be considered, given the bullying by the other students, but this only happens in the first chapter or so. After that, it’s all about survival!
Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both teens (All the Feels and Internet Famous) adults (Edge of Wild and The Dark Divide). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.
Psst! If you preorder Switchback . . .
You can get all the following cool swag by sending Danika proof of purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org! Squee for fun things!
- Signed bookplate
- Asexual flag temporary tattoo
- Switchback Bookmark
- Switchback Sticker
The moment y’all have been waiting for: the giveaway!
Lucky for you, no mountain climbing experience necessary to enter! Just use the Rafflecopter button below to enter the giveaway where one lucky winner will receive a hardcover copy of Switchback!
This giveaway will be open for two weeks and to anyone where Amazon ships! Good luck!