The Switch

by Beth O’Leary

I really enjoyed this humorous and sometimes touching story of a grandmother and grandaughter switching places. Of course, there are two love stories along the way but they take second stage to the growth and change each of the women experiences and the impact they make on their new temporary communities. A couple of things kept it from being a 5 star read for me though.

First,there are so many new friends and acquaintances each of them meet, but very few of them really stood out for me. I had a hard time keeping all of the names straight. One of the few who had an engaging arc was Betsy from the village in Yorkshire where the hard-charging London grandaughter brought low goes to live for a couple of months. And even then, we only see the surface of her escape from an abusive marriage. Why her grandchildren, one of which becomes a significant person in the story didn’t intervene is left unanswered. I think she spent too much time on too many characters, enough to get me interested but not enough follow-through or depth. Perhaps there was a lot lost in the editing process. Another example of what I missed was a comeuppance for Eileen’s ex-husband, Wade. I wanted to be more invested in more people than the Cotton women.

The second thing was the granddaughter, Leena Cotton, being so blind and self-centered about the choices her mother makes about the fatal illness of her daughter, Carla, Leena’s sister. I liked Leena (good thing because she is half the book!) but she made me too angry and frustrated with her. She lacked empathy, a quality I prize a lot. Then, when she is starting to see the light about her sister and her mother, she gets just as blind and stupid about her boyfriend.

I’ve spent too much time telling why this wasn’t a five star read and not enough telling why it was a four-star read!
It was touching:

“When people talk about loss, they always say that you’ll never be the same, that it will change you, leave a hole in your life.” My voice is choked with tears now. “And those things are undoubtedly true. But when you lose someone you love, you don’t lose everything they gave you. They leave something with you.

It had drama:

How dare you act like I gave up on my daughter?” Mum says, her fists clenched at her sides. I’m still processing the dented bonnet. “Mum, I—” “You didn’t see her day in, day out.” Mum’s voice is climbing. “The emergency admissions; the endless, brutal, wrenching vomiting; the times she was so weak she couldn’t make it to the toilet. She put on a brave face when you visited—you never saw her at her worst!” I let out a small gasp. That hurt. “I wanted to be there more.” My eyes are stinging, I’m going to cry. “You know Carla didn’t want me to leave my job, and I—I couldn’t be here all the time, Mum, you know that.” “But I was here all the time. I saw it. I felt it, what she felt. I’m her mother.”

It was funny.

“Emergency! Baby being born in the back!” she shouts out of the window, waving her arm at an irate taxi driver. “No time for niceties!” Sally’s definition of niceties is quite broad and seems to cover most of the rules of the road. She goes through every red light, clips someone’s wing mirror, drives up three curbs, and shouts at a pedestrian for having the gall to walk over a zebra crossing at the wrong moment. I find it fascinating that a woman so anxious about feeling safe in her own home drives as though she’s on the dodgems. But, still, I’m delighted she’s throwing herself into things. Though I’ve yet to get to the bottom of why she owns quite such a big van, as a woman living alone in the center of London. I do hope Fitz’s not right—I’d feel awful if she turned out to be a serial killer.

It had happy endings for all and 2 nice romances never hurt. And the wonderful character of Eileen, the grandmother, more than made up for the problems I had with Leena. **4 stars out of 5**

November 2, 2020

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