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The Swap

“No list of thrillers is complete without Robyn Harding,” proclaims Real Simple. Bestselling author of The Party delivers a riveting tale about the toxic relationship between two couples after a night of sexual shenanigans, and the manipulative teenager with an explosive secret at the centre of it all.

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging...that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

Robyn Harding brings her acclaimed storytelling, lauded as “fast-paced, thrilling, gut-wrenching” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six, to this dark and suspenseful thriller for fans of Megan Miranda and Lisa Jewell.

Chapter 1: Low Morrison 1 low morrison
I first saw Freya at my high school. I hated school, found the classes as dull and simple as my fellow students. This attitude did not endear me to my teachers nor my classmates, so I was alone, as usual, when she walked through the double front doors. No one noticed her, which seemed to be her intent. She wore a ball cap and aviator sunglasses that she did not remove under the fluorescent lights. Her shoulder-length blond hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, her heart-shaped face free of makeup. She was petite but curvaceous in her faded jeans and plain white T, with the kind of figure rarely seen outside of comic books. I had a comic-book figure, too… Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl.

Even through the crowd in the hallway, I could tell she was somebody. There was no way I could have known then that she would come into my life and change it, change me, but I felt a magnetic pull toward her, like I had to meet her. It was destiny. The other kids were immune to her presence. It was lunch break, so they were all wrapped up in their pathetic social jockeying—gossiping, flirting, or roughhousing. We would graduate in less than three months, and everyone was already obsessing about prom, pre-parties, after-parties, and college. Everyone but me, that is.

I watched the woman head to the office as Morrissey warbled through my earbuds (unlike my pop- and rap-loving peers, I preferred to listen to angsty classics: the Smiths, Nirvana, R.E.M.). She was too old to be a student, too young to be a parent, too cool to be a teacher. As she disappeared into the principal’s domain, I wondered: Who was this woman? What was she doing at Bayview High? And why was she dressed like an incognito celebrity?

A few minutes later, she emerged from the office with Principal Graph beside her. He was enamored with her; it was obvious in his attentive posture, his fawning mannerisms, the color in his meaty cheeks. The portly administrator led Freya (who had removed her shades but not her hat) to the bulletin board in the main hall. As always, it was covered in ignored bills: school-play announcements, lost-phone notices, guest-speaker posters… Mr. Graph cleared a space for her, handed her a pushpin, and she posted a piece of paper on the board. They chatted for a few seconds, the principal clearly trying to bask in her aura for as long as possible, before she donned her sunglasses and left.

I hurried to the vacated bulletin board, eyes trained on the standard white sheet she had put up. It was a typewritten advertisement in Times New Roman font.

Pottery Classes

Learn to throw, glaze, and fire in a cozy home studio. Make beautiful mugs, bowls, and vases.

Ten classes for $100.

Contact Freya Light.

Casually, I snapped a photo of her contact details just as the bell rang to signal the end of lunch.

I waited two days to text her. I didn’t want her to know that I’d watched her pin the notice on the board, that I’d recorded the information directly, that I had been thinking about her ever since. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. My life was exceptionally boring. I had no friends, no hobbies, no extracurricular activities. I did, however, have a lot of chores. My family had a small hobby farm with chickens, a couple of goats, and a pig. There were always animals to feed, eggs to collect, kindling to be chopped for the woodstove. Whenever I escaped to my room to watch Netflix, my mom would insist she needed help with something. She worked from home as a bookkeeper, but she was obsessed with canning: peaches, green beans, dill pickles, kimchi, applesauce… As if we had to prepare for a nuclear war.

Sometimes, I’d escape to the beach or into the forest to take photographs of seals, driftwood, birds, and trees. My photography teacher, Mr. Pelman, said I had a good eye. He even let me sign out the school cameras, a privilege usually reserved for yearbook club members. Other times, I used my phone. I liked viewing the world through a smaller, more intimate lens. I liked the solitude. And my singular hobby gave me time to think. For the past two days, about little other than Freya.

She fascinated me, this woman who looked like she’d walked off the set of some Beverly Hills reality show. The town of Hawking, where my high school was located, had some wealthy residents. There were the bankers, the real-estate moguls, the captains of industry who summered in the waterfront mansions set along the island’s rugged coastline. Year-round, the town housed a handful of professionals—doctors and lawyers and accountants. But mostly, our island was populated with organic farmers, beekeepers, or artisan candle/soap/pickle makers and those who ran the shops and restaurants servicing the seasonal tourist trade. We had the occasional celebrity pass through town, usually some washed-up old actor en route to the fishing lodge on the island’s northern tip. But Freya was different. She exuded glamour, significance, and a palpable sense of cool.

After deliberating over my words for several hours, I texted:

I’d like to sign up for pottery classes

With a trembling finger, I sent the message.

When she didn’t respond, I fretted. Were my carefully chosen words somehow off-putting? Or had she seen me in the school hallway watching her with barely concealed wonder? Could she read my thoughts—which, while harmless, were perhaps a little… much? It was possible that she had reconsidered offering classes to teens. Why had she wanted to in the first place? Kids my age were assholes. They wouldn’t take learning pottery seriously. They’d joke around, make a mess, show up stoned. Except me. I would treat it like surgery.

Finally, a week later, she texted back.

Hi. Classes start next Monday at 4. Bring a friend!

Ha.

I had one more problem. Or should I say, I had sixty-two more problems.

I decided to steal the shortfall from my younger brothers. I didn’t feel guilty as I rifled under their twin beds for their piggy banks. They were nine and eleven; they had significant birthday money and no expenses. When I got a summer job, I would pay them back… if the little brats even noticed the money was missing. And I would have held up a bank to get the cash I needed. I would have rolled an old lady. These pottery classes, my meeting with Freya, had to happen. It was fated.

That Monday, I drove my battered 1997 Ford F-150 SuperCab pickup truck from school to the address Freya had texted me. I hadn’t fussed with my appearance; there wasn’t much point. But my hair was washed, my lips were coated in enough cherry ChapStick to give them some sheen, and I’d doubled up on deodorant… which was a good thing. My anticipation had me sweating like a hog.

Freya’s isolated home was stunning—a cedar-and-glass structure perched on a rocky cliff above the ocean. It was surrounded by arbutus trees, their naked limbs straining toward the water, and seaside juniper perfuming the air with the tangy scent of gin. The building wasn’t large, but it was sleek, modern, and expensive. The opulence of Freya’s home did not surprise me. She was clearly a somebody, her effortless glamour indicative of wealth. This house, with its ocean view and modern architectural design, would be worth millions. My curiosity about her was further piqued.

I parked in the drive and headed toward the pottery studio. It was a small cottage nestled in the trees about fifty yards to the right of the main house. With its clapboard siding, multipaned windows, and wood-shingled roof, it must have been a remnant of the home’s previous iteration. A chalkboard sign mounted next to the door read: Welcome to the Studio, in a swirly script.

My height allowed me to view her through the window at the top of the door. Freya wore black tights and a loose denim shirt—her pottery smock—her blond hair pulled back in a stylishly messy bun. I watched her plunk a heavy bag of gray clay onto a slab table, arrange her various tools into plastic containers. She was preparing for my arrival, and I found it oddly touching. Before I became mesmerized by my observations, I knocked briefly and entered.

“Hi.” Her smile was broad and white and sincere. “I’m Freya.”

She held out her hand, and I took it. It was smooth and warm, her grip strong from the clay work.

“I’m Low.”

“I’m so happy you came.” Her eyes flitted behind me. “Just you?”

“Yep.”

But she wasn’t disappointed. “One-on-one always works best. Let’s get started.”

Freya handed me a man’s plaid shirt that was too big even for me. As I rolled the sleeves, Freya sliced several one-inch pieces from a block of clay using a wire with two wooden handles—a garrote. We began by “wedging,” pressing the clay into itself, making it malleable and releasing any air bubbles. I watched Freya intently, copying the movement of her small but powerful hands. Afterward, we filled two metal containers with warm water from the back sink and moved to the wheels. Here, we encountered our first hurdle.

“Are you right-handed?” she asked me.

“No, I’m left-handed.”

“Oh.” Her brow furrowed. “You’ll turn your wheel clockwise then. I’ll try to do a left-handed demonstration, but I’m not very ambidextrous.”

“It’s okay,” I assured her. “I’m used to learning everything opposite.”

And so we began. Freya chatted as I got used to the feel of wet clay spinning beneath my hands, of the force of my touch to morph it into a vessel. She had moved to the island just four months ago, she told me. It was her husband’s idea. She had a husband. Of course she did. A beautiful woman her age would not be single.

“He wanted a fresh start,” she elaborated, eyes on the perfect clay cone taking shape upon her wheel.

“And you?” I asked.

She didn’t answer right away. Her hand slipped over the top of the mini mountain, palm compressing it into a small, round hill. “I don’t want to be here. But I have no choice.”

“That makes two of us,” I muttered.

She looked up at me, a slow smile spreading across her face. She saw me. She really saw me. I was not simply a misfit teenager, tall and awkward and outcast.

I was a kindred spirit.
This reading group guide for THE SWAP includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging . . . that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

Robyn Harding brings her acclaimed storytelling, lauded as “fast-paced, thrilling, gut-wrenching” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six, to this dark and suspenseful thriller for fans of Megan Miranda and Lisa Jewell.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. When Low is first introduced to readers in chapter 1, what do we learn about her as a character through how she describes her classmates and her first impression of Freya?

2. In chapter 1, Low sees Freya for the first time in her school, posting an ad for pottery classes. Later on, Freya tells Low she posted it to earn money, but her home and lifestyle don’t indicate she’s financially unstable. Did Freya have other motives for posting the ad for pottery classes and, if so, what were they?

3. The book consistently juxtaposes obsession and jealousy with freedom and sharing. Discuss the idea of monogamy versus polyamory. Are people inherently one or the other? Do these concepts exist in black and white, or is there a grey area in between?

4. How does Low’s own perception of herself differ from how Jamie and Max describe her when they first meet?

5. At various points in the story, Max, Jamie, and Brian all allude to Freya’s persuasiveness and charm and how they were all ultimately deceived by her into thinking everything was going to be alright (end of chapters 18, 15, and 5). Could this mean Freya was a sociopath?

6. In chapter 8, Low describes the meaning of her full name—Swallow, a highly adaptable, small bird—and the shame it caused her growing up. Freya is the name of a Norse goddess who is accused of infidelity and who incidentally is pictured with birds of prey. How do these names represent the evolution of these two characters throughout the book?

7. In chapter 39, Brian says to Jamie, “You’re the one trying to hang onto a sick, toxic friendship . . .” with Freya. This is the first time a character in the book explicitly names the nature of Freya’s relationships with others. Discuss why you think this revelation came from Brian.

8. In chapter 66, Thompson says of Low’s relationship to Freya, “You worship her and adore her and do everything for her. But she doesn’t care about you at all. That’s not love, Low. That’s obsession.” Does Thompson’s relationship with Low mirror her relationship with Freya?

9. In chapter 49, Brian asks, “Had Freya wanted to get pregnant . . . this pregnancy had reignited her Instagram career.” Do you think that Freya was trying to get pregnant or that it was unplanned, as she claimed?

10. Do you think that Brian and Jamie would have “swapped” with Freya and Max if they weren’t under the influence of drugs?

11. Discuss why Low became so attached to Maggie that she was able to overcome her obsession with Freya, even momentarily, to save the baby’s life.

12. In chapter 65, after Low’s parents called CPS on Freya, Low explodes at them. “I’m what matters! Me!’ I shrieked, ‘You never cared about me! You’ve never put me first!’” Discuss how Low’s upbringing affected her relationship with the other adult women in the book (Jamie and Freya).

13. In chapter 68, Low only turned on Freya when she heard Maggie’s cry and realized Freya was going to kill her own baby. Where did the mothering instinct come from? Did she kill Freya because she knew she could never have her to herself or because she was trying to protect Maggie?

14. Discuss the relationship between couples Jamie and Brian and Freya and Max. Are the dynamics in one better than the other, or do both exhibit unhealthy ones? Did Max and Freya influence Brian and Jamie?

15. Low describes Freya and Max’s relationship as, “locked in some kind of sick, codependent partnership full of lies and abuse and emotional distance, and yet . . . they had each other’s backs.” Do you agree with that assessment?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Max and Freya’s life is turned upside down when Max inadvertently kills another hockey player during a game. Discuss how you would deal with this kind of life-altering event. How would it affect your relationship to the loved one responsible?

2. Throughout the book, each character exhibits pathological behavior. Do you think mental illness played a role in the story? If and when you’ve experienced similar behavior in real life, has mental illness played a role? Does it make any of the characters more sympathetic when looking at their choices and actions through the lens of mental illness?

3. Low’s attachment to baby Maggie was the catalyst to finally break Freya’s psychological hold on her. Do you believe in the power of a mothering instinct that strong? Have you ever experienced that in your own life?

4. Low discusses her ambiguous sexuality throughout the book. When she talks about her relationship with her childhood friend Topaz and, later, Freya, she says multiple times that she isn’t attracted to them “in that way.” But at the end of chapter 38, Freya kisses Low and she feels her first pull of attraction. Did this sexual awakening impact Low’s obsession with Freya? Do you think the book would have ended so violently if Low’s feelings for Freya had remained platonic?

5. Are any of the characters unreliable narrators? Did you see examples in the book where they gave conflicting opinions or hypocritical advice to others?
Photograph by Tallulah

Robyn Harding is the author of several books, including the international bestseller, The Party, and wrote and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and children. Visit her at RobynHarding.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RHardingWriter or Facebook @AuthorRobynHarding.

  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (July 23, 2020)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982141769

Praise for The Swap

“[A] convincing tale of obsession and celebrity worship...Fans of psychological thrillers will be satisfied.”

– Publishers Weekly

"Harding conjures a dark, inescapable feeling...[Her] tale will please readers who enjoy delving into the details of how private actions in a relationship are different from public displays.”

– Booklist

“Nearly everyone in this passion play becomes delightfully unhinged in the end . . . Dangerously addictive."

– Kirkus Reviews

"There are books born for summer reading and The Swap is one of them. Steamy sex, obsession, partner swapping – this one has it all. Vancouver author Robyn Harding keeps the reader engaged with a group of fascinating characters, each with a secret."

– The Globe

Switch it up. Or maybe don't. In this dark thriller, two couples swap spouses for a night. Turns out… not such a great idea. There’s a plotline about pottery classes (giving us major “Ghost” vibes), a social media influencer, and an adoption scam. It reads like a soap opera and is so intense, you’ll be talking about for days after you finish.

 

– The Skimm

"A new book from Harding is always a treat."

– CrimeReads

“Every summer, Robyn Harding releases a twisty, turn-y thriller. And every summer, we bump it to the top of our reading lists. The Swap, about what happens when two friends swap husbands for the night, will keep you on your toes until the very end.”

– Hello Giggles

“Two young couples. One remote island. And a night that goes too far. What could possibly go wrong? Robyn Harding’s The Swap is everything I’ve come to love about her books—provocative, sexy, and full of surprises!”

– Wendy Walker, nationally bestselling author of The Night Before

"Gripping from the first line, The Swap is a wickedly delicious, addictive, utterly compelling read about obsession, toxic relationships, and dangerous secrets. I devoured every dark, twisted word until the last explosive scene. An absolute must-read, this suspense will shock and rivet readers through each masterful page."

– Samantha M. Bailey, bestselling author of Woman on the Edge

“Robyn Harding has upped her game with the page-turning and completely riveting The Swap. Harding deftly explores toxic friendship, desire, and obsession in this engrossing novel, in which two couples—one a glittering pair of former celebrities, the other stalwart high school sweethearts—become entangled in a web of secrets and jealousy. This is a clear-your-night-and-read-in-one-sitting book!”

– Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping and Follow Me

"Robyn Harding is an expert at slowly building creeping dread and The Swap was no exception. In what is undoubtedly her best book yet, Harding explores toxic friendships, obsession, and swinging, bringing a lonely, slightly sociopathic teenager into center of it all. The outcome is explosive, sexy, and completely absorbing. The Swap is guaranteed to be a must read this summer!"

– Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year and In Her Bones

Praise for The Arrangement

“An insider's look into the world of sugar daddies . . . full of shocking revelations, volatile characters, and vice. Look out: The Arrangement will blow your mind.”

– Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl

"A nightmarish deep dive into the underbelly of a secret world. Rivetingly dark, The Arrangement delivers on every level - a shocking premise, a forbidden obsession, and a plot that builds slowly and masterfully escalates to a chilling end. Prepare to be blindsided."  

– Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and Not a Sound

Praise for Her Pretty Face

“A fast-paced, thrilling, gut-wrenching novel with sharp teeth and daring observations about the inner lives of women. I flew through the pages, desperate to get hold of what was going on beneath the surface but Robyn Harding was always one step ahead. Positively exhilarating.”

– Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six

“The tony setting and the slowly revealed secrets make this a good read-alike for Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies.”

– Booklist

"Robyn Harding spins a masterful tale of the disintegration of a seemingly perfect family in the aftermath of a disastrous sweet sixteen party. Engrossing and unflinching in its portrayal of the dark side of human nature, The Party takes the concept of 'mean girls' to a whole new level."

– A. J. Banner, #1 bestselling author of The Good Neighbor and The Twilight Wife

Praise for The Party

"A tense and riveting story about one night gone horribly wrong, and the fallout within a family and a group of friends. Secrets, desires, choice and consequence, The Party reveals that what lies inside a family—and each person—is not always as it seems. I was hooked from the opening scene and could not look away until I reached the very last page."

– Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls

 “Sexy and edgy . . . Harding keeps the tension taut throughout . . . [and] also raises several thought-provoking questions about love, fidelity and friendship that makes it an interesting conversation starter. . . . Harding explores toxicity in all relationships in a way that is smart and observant, but equally fun to read. The Swap is an excellent dose of escapism, perfect for readers of Cape May, Stranger in the Lake, and A Strange on the Beach.”

– Bookreporter

More books from this author: Robyn Harding