The phrase “you must have been switched at birth!” is often said as a good-natured jibe between siblings, but that’s the exact premise of N.R. Walker’s Switched, the story of a young man who, at twenty-six, discovers he’s not his parents’ biological child due to a hospital mix up. One could – perhaps – be excused for thinking that a premise like that would lead to an overly contrived or melodramatic story, but Switched is neither of those things. It’s an emotional and angsty read that combines one man’s path to self-discovery with a heartfelt and sexy friends-to-lovers romance, and although there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, I enjoyed it a lot.
Coming out as gay in his teens was just one in a long string of disappointments Israel Ingham ‘inflicted’ on his parents. Even now, when he’s doing what was always expected of him and working as junior executive manager in his father’s company – the position he’s long been groomed for – he’s well aware that nothing he does is – or will ever be – good enough for them. It’s frustrating, but he’s kind of learned to live with it. He’s good at his job, he has some great friends, plenty of sex when he wants it… his life is good and he’s learned not to wish for something he’ll never have – a normal and loving relationship with his parents.
When the book opens, Israel is irritated at having to take time out of his work day to attend what he assumes is some sort of fundraiser at Eastport Children’s Hospital in Sydney. But that misapprehension is quickly corrected when he and his parents are met by a lawyer – who informs them that Israel is not their biological son. He and another male child, born on the same day, were accidentally switched, and the mix-up has only recently come to light. While his father is busy ranting and raving and his mother just sits there, expressionless, Iz’s heart is racing and his mind is spinning. Could this be the reason he’s never felt as though he truly belonged in his family? Could he, at some deep, subconscious level, have understood that he wasn’t truly part of it?
Iz is – unsurprisingly – completely thrown by this revelation. He’s angry and scared and confused, he feels he doesn’t know who he is any more, doesn’t know how to feel or what to do about… well, pretty much anything. Luckily for him, his best friend Sam is there for him, just as he’s always been, and makes it clear that no way is he letting Iz go through this alone. He drops everything to be with him and to be whatever he needs – someone to pull him out of his funks, someone to make him laugh, someone to forcibly ‘kidnap’ him for the weekend to provide a distraction … Whatever Iz needs, Sam is there. They’ve been friends since their schooldays and are obviously very close; it’s also obvious – to the reader, if not to Israel (who has no clue) – that Sam feels a lot more for him than friendship.
The author does a good job weaving together the three central relationships in the story – Iz and Sam’s romance, Iz’s burgeoning relationship with his biological family, and his ongoing relationship with his parents. His anger and frustration, his confusion over his identity, his feelings of validation almost, as he realises that there’s a reason he never felt as though he belonged, his need to work out who he is and where he belongs now, all are very well conveyed and I really felt for Iz as he flounders while trying to process it all, and slowly – with Sam’s continued support – starts to make sense of it.
One of the things I like about friends-to-lovers romances is that moment when one person starts seeing the other in a new light, and watching Iz slowly starting to see Sam as an attractive man and not just as his best mate was one of my favourite things about this story. Their romance is a bit of a slow burn in that respect – and there’s some frustrating miscommunication along the way as Iz starts to think he’s too dependent on Sam (which he is, really) and that maybe if he puts some distance between them the attraction he’s begun to feel will fizzle out. (Good luck with that!) Fortunately, this isn’t allowed to go on for too long, and Iz does get his head out of his arse before too long. Unfortunately, however, it’s as the result of what I term the ‘third-party-nudge’, and I’m not a great fan of stories where it takes an observation by someone else to galvanise one of the protagonists into action.
That’s my main quibble about the romance though – otherwise, it’s sweet and hot, and Sam and Iz are obviously perfect for one another. The UST is delicious; even though the story is told entirely in Iz’s PoV, Sam’s longing for something more with his friend is palpable – and the evident affection, trust and understanding between them is just lovely to see.
Also lovely – Israel finally getting his wish for a real family, one that loves and accepts him unconditionally. Donna, Nick and his other siblings (a brother and sister) are warm, welcoming, genuine people and I really enjoyed their interactions. Iz’s other family is not neglected in the story, and we see him working out how he wants to relate to them in future. Despite their lack of attention and affection and everything else his parents put him through, he makes it clear that he’s willing to try to work things out rather than completely cutting ties with them – and by the end of the book it appears that they are willing to make the effort, too. It’s clear that they’re unlikely ever to have a close, touchy-feely relationship, but there’s a sense of hope that they can build something better than before.
Switched is a well-written story that examines the nature of family and belonging in a poignant and thought-provoking way, and the romance between Israel and Sam is nicely done. Despite a few reservations I enjoyed the story and the characters, and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a romance with an unusual storyline.