The Switch by Roland Smith

A 13-year-old boy must help his large family survive an ElectroMagnetic Pulse in The Switch.

The Switch by Roland Smith. Scholastic, 2022, 303 pages.

Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15

Recommended for: ages 13-16

On the morning after his 13th birthday, Henry Carter passes up an opportunity to go to work with his father. His father happens to be head keeper of the Portland, Oregon, Zoo, so what kid would pass up such an opportunity? This one, apparently; the zoo extends to his own family compound, where Dad occasionally brings exotic animals needing extra care. Besides, his birthday party the day before had been the usual noisy, rambunctious affair, with all his aunts and uncles and cousins. Henry just wants a quiet morning, but he isn’t going to get it. As he crosses the field headed for his secret hideaway, the sky seems to split and a jet plane plows across the field, spewing flames and scraps and charred bodies. Henry’s Uncle Edgar is the first to guess the truth: it’s not a plane crash, it’s an ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP), or a burst of energy so intense as to knock out the power grid for an entire region.

Uncle Edgar happens to be an inventor whose wind turbine immediately sets the family apart from their neighbors. Edgar and Marie, Henry’s mother, quickly organize their large extended family to produce more food and warmth for the swift-approaching winter. With careful planning and conservation, they will survive, but there’s one big gap: Henry’s father never returned from the zoo that morning, and a quick anxious trip to chaotic Portland turns up no trace of him. After four months the family assumes the worst, but complications arise when Henry accompanies his uncle and a friend on a scavenging trip to the city and finds himself on his own when the grownups are abducted.

Some scenes, particularly the air disaster in the first chapters, are not for sensitive readers, but the projected casualties of an EMP (which is theoretically quite possible) are portrayed with just enough gritty realism to be appropriate for mature mid-teens. With believable vulnerability, Henry develops from an insecure teen to a resourceful young adult whose escalating challenges will keep readers turning pages far into the night. Though not great literature, The Switch is a solid addition to the survival genre.


There’s a small amount of mild profanity, namely the d– word and the h– word.

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.75

Artistic/literary value: 4

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Reviews: Roland Smith climbs Mt. Everest in Peak and goes under the streets of New York City in Beneath.

Reviews: For more edge-of-your-seat adventures, see our reviews of books by Rodman Philbrick and Watt Key (type their names in the search box).

Resource: Trying to find a hook for a reluctant teen reader? See our list of 13 Books for 13-year-old Boys (and Girls). There’s actually a lot more than 13!

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