Updated: Aug 22, 2021
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Publication Date: August 18th, 2020
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena's tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it's time they swapped places...
When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen's house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She'd like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn't offer many eligible gentlemen.
Once Leena learns of Eileen's romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another's shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.
Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn't as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect - and distractingly handsome - school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?
This book was an absolute joy to read. I fell in love with The Flatshare last year and O’Leary did not disappoint with The Switch. She manages to balance different POVs masterfully and I could not help but adore each of her characters and their stories.
Leena is a great representation of the modern late millennial who works hard, has plans to be her own boss and desperately needs a break even if she won’t admit it. Dealing with a major loss and being overrun takes its toll on her leaving her boss to tell her to take a 2 month sabbatical which is both a blessing and a curse to her. She has a boyfriend who seems great on paper and a group of friends who look out for her but also are sort of part of her problem as they tip-toe around her feelings about losing her sister even though they do it with the best of intentions. A truly great starting place for our first lead. Leena has a great arc and I really did feel for her.
Eileen is such a scene stealer! I felt a great connection to her as she journeys from her small village to the big city of London with her lists and plans. She has so much gumption and wit and attitude that I felt like I was reading about my own grandma. You could really get a feel for the life that she’s lead without feeling overwhelmed with information. O’Leary was able to dose out almost an entire lifetime of character development into this book for Eileen and it was wonderful.
Each of our main characters’ stories had me hooked. I wanted to see Leena living in her grandma’s shoes, dealing with the loss of her sister, trying to connect with her mum, acclimating to a different type of community and friends all while having a local man catch her eye. The way that her London boyfriend was written seemed purposeful without feeling like her was just a plot device and all of the issues that she has to deal with made me really feel for her. Eileen’s arc was less heavy and more lighthearted but that didn’t prevent me from having a ton of emotions. Some of Eileen’s scenes made me smile and laugh and had my heart twisting at times but she was so earnest and found so much joy in her time in London that I just wanted her to live to her fullest.
The Switch has a near perfect balance of deep emotional trauma, levity and character development. By page 54 I was all-in with this story and happily watched it unfold for me. Eileen and Leena are both such distinctive voices with each of their own heartfelt stories that they need to live out. Their struggles are honest and written with emotional awareness that lends itself to being read realistically. I loved the hint of romance that was added when it really wasn’t the point of the book but it worked perfectly to round out Leena’s arc and Eileen’s.
I knew I was on-board with Beth O’Leary’s writing after The Flatshare but The Switch has secured that I think she may just be a new favourite author of mine. I can’t wait to read The Road Trip when it comes out next year!