Last year I read and enjoyed O’Leary’s first novel, The Flatshare. So it was with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I picked up her second book, The Switch.
Leena loves her job, but ever since her sister died a year or so before she has been on a downhill slide, struggling with depression and anger. When she has a bit of a nervous breakdown at work, her boss tells her that she has to take two months off to R&R… yes, you heard that right, two months paid leave with no repercussions… to which Leena basically says, “Oh no, please, anything but that! How will I ever survive if I have to have a two month vacation doing whatever I want and still getting paid for it! My life is soooooo harrrrdddd.” Yeah, I didn’t hit it off with Leena right away, in case you couldn’t tell.
After a bit of this and that, Leena pops up to Yorkshire to visit her grandma, Eileen. Eileen is feeling a bit lonely ever since her 70-year-old husband ran off with their dance instructor (yeah, I thought that seemed a little unbelievable if I’m honest) and wishes that she could have a second chance at love. However, that just doesn’t seem all that likely in her small village where she already knows everything about everyone.
Leena comes up with a brilliant idea: she’ll stay in Yorkshire and take on all of Eileen’s responsibilities, and Eileen can stay in Leena’s London flat and do some online dating where the pool of eligible men is much larger. And so the switch takes place…
There was honestly a lot to like about this book, and I gave it an easy 4*. I got off to a rocky start with Leena, and really never did find her particularly likable. She and I are completely different personalities, and I would never have handled any of my problems in remotely the way she did, so that was definitely a big part of my issue with the book. In particular, Leena blames her mom for Leena’s sister’s death because her mom agreed that the sister could “stop her treatment.” At first I thought that this was going to be at least somewhat understandable – maybe Leena’s sister committed suicide or something after stopping therapy? But no, literally her sister died of cancer, and Leena is mad at her mom because her mom didn’t try to convince Leena’s sister to try this experimental treatment that would have been super expensive and would have involved going to the U.S. To me, the level of rage that Leena has been nursing about this for over a year was just absurd, and even though eventually she forgives her mom and they start to move forward, I just couldn’t really like Leena all that well. She always seemed rather spoiled and whiny.
Eileen on the other hand was fantastic. Intelligent, interesting, likable – she works hard and engages with people around her. In London, not only does she find a boyfriend, she sets up an entire club that starts meeting for games and puzzles in the common area of Leena’s apartment building. Funny and full of wisdom, Eileen is what sold me on this story.
All the secondary characters are great. There’s an entire clan of elderly people in Eileen’s village that add so much humor and warmth to the story. I appreciated that “small town life” wasn’t presented as the worst thing ever or the best thing ever, but simply a way that some people choose to live, and the same with city life. Eileen and Leena could appreciate the advantages and disadvantages to their life choices, and I liked that a lot. Leena ends up surprised at how busy her grandma actually is – she has loads of responsibilities around the village and beyond, and I liked the way that Leena came to appreciate that her grandma was contributing to the community in a lot of ways.
My biggest issue with this book was one I run into a lot with romcoms – the almost-cheating love triangle. Leena has a boyfriend that she’s been dating steadily for a few years, but has a crush on a guy she meets while staying at Eileen’s. Nothing really “happens” but I didn’t like the way it all played out, especially since Leena literally goes from the boyfriend to the new guy in just a couple of days, despite the fact that the boyfriend has been “her rock” for years… it just felt extremely unnatural and made it difficult for me to ship Leena with the new guy. The whole story would have read significantly better if the boyfriend had been jettisoned way earlier in the story, or even before the story began. Why did we even need that boyfriend? He was completely pointless!
Still, all in all I did enjoy this story, which was definitely more about healing and moving forward than it was about romance. There are a lot of secondary storylines about grief, being true to yourself, finding your place (which doesn’t always look the way other people think it should), taking risks, forgiveness, and being content. While I didn’t love Leena, the overall story was warm, welcoming, and humorous. I look forward to seeing what O’Leary writes next.