I defy anyone to not fall in love with Elizabeth ‘Birdy’ Finch. She’s the fantastic literary creation I was rooting for so hard in this great novel from Lizzy Dent. Having had a tough upbringing in Plymouth, Birdy is pretty much alone in life, except for loyal friend Heather. She and Heather have been friends for life, understanding each other’s difficult family situations and providing undying support for each other. However, Heather’s family were financially better off than Birdy’s, so despite being without the emotional support and presence of her family, Heather has been able to rely on a financial cushion to train as a sommelier or wine expert, working in hospitality. Birdy hasn’t had the same education, so tends to drift from job to job without ever finding a passion of her own. Now, Heather is going to Italy with her current boyfriend and Birdy feels lost. With no sofas left to surf, Birdy may have to do the unthinkable and return to Plymouth, when an idea strikes her. Before the Italy opportunity, Heather had the chance of a summer job at a hotel near Loch Dorne in Scotland. For some reason, she’d been keen to go, then changed her mind. She gives Birdy tickets to the British Wine Awards at the Ritz and Birdy goes with her on/off boyfriend Tim. It’s there, where an idea takes shape. While wearing Heather’s name badge, Birdy runs into Irene – the manager of the Loch Dorne hotel. They get along and Birdy starts to wonder – could she do Heather’s job for the summer? It would take a lot of studying, but maybe she could pull it off and surely anything’s better than going back to Plymouth?
I loved the hotel and the surrounding Scottish scenery. The author describes the area with love and with such detail I could truly imagine it. The way Birdy connects with the place really surprises her. Having always lived in a city, Birdy has never really experienced being in nature and at first turns up in all the wrong clothes. Her first hike, which she undertakes in Converse trainers is a bit of a disaster as she sprains her ankle. Scotland’s beauty has a slow, but remarkable, effect on her mental health, seeming to soothe her anxiety and allow her to ‘be’. For someone with such a busy brain it’s amazing to see how she grows to love walking and travelling to Skye, both on her own at times. Birdy has never really been confident enough to do things on her own, but now she starts to try it, either hiking or going to the coast for fish and chips. It seems to give her the space and quiet she needs to sort things out in her own mind. She even tries foraging, horse riding and fishing! There’s a stillness about her when she’s outdoors that she’s never had before and perhaps a growing sense of belonging to this place.
Of course, her plan doesn’t go without incident and she’s permanently exhausted from studying the wine list in her room. Yet there is a new found confidence about her. She loves being part of this small team who work like a family. Nobody is without their weaknesses but they help each other along and they’re united in their concern about the executive chef Russell and his modern ideas. The pub has been redecorated and the menu changed from the ‘neeps, tatties and whiskey’ destination it was previously. The staff seem so pleased to have Heather there and she quickly makes friends. I could imagine how these people could become a little family for Birdy – if she hadn’t been deceiving them of course. There are just so many hurdles for her to jump, not to mention the little tiny spark of something she can feel with the chef James. Will she succeed and will this spark grow into something more real than Birdy’s used to?
Lizzy Dent is clearly astute when it comes to how a difficult start in life, can affect someone into adulthood. If the people who bring you into the world don’t love and value you it’s very hard to understand how anyone else might. Children whose parents neglect or emotionally abuse them, don’t wonder what’s wrong with their parents, they wonder what’s wrong with themselves. This is Birdy all over. She knows her family aren’t great, but yet she still can’t see the good in herself. Those moments Birdy has, when she’s walking in her new hiking boots or eating fish and chips on the harbour, are moments when she’s discovering her genuine self for the first time. As you read, you will be rooting for those seeds to grow. This book is absolutely joyous. So, if you’re going on holiday this summer, make sure you have this little gem packed in your hand luggage. You won’t regret it.
Meet The Author
Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in Scotland in hospitality, in a hotel not unlike the one in this novel. She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. But she always knew that writing was the thing she wanted to do, if only she could find the confidence. After publishing three young adult novels, she decided to write a novel that reflected the real women she knew, who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Summer Job is that novel.