Maggie O'Farrell's novel tells us about the girl Fionnuala who is experiencing the problems and dilemmas associated with becoming an adult. She has a mother who is distraught over how her own youth and is therefore trying to keep her daughter back while Fionnuala is in love with the boy Oliver who wants to take the next step which is keeping their relationship a secret no longer.
We meet Fionnuala on a beach where she waits for Oliver, pretending to at orchestra class. He is late as always, which irritates her because she has to be home soon. She is already stressed by the referring exam and nervous that her mother will find out that she lied about where she is. Fionnuala must be around 15 or 16 years old and attending a high school. From the beginning we see how the rebellious teenager moves with her. When Oliver finally shows up, however, all other thoughts disappear from her head. She is in love.
Oliver does not understand why Fionnuala wants the relationship to be kept secret. It feels wrong for him because he does not know how her mother is. The mother comes from Ireland, and has not put old Irish prejudices, folklore and traditions aside since she moved to England. It appears that she has even named her daughter, Fionnuala, after a mythological princess and refuses to prune the large tree they have standing in front of their house, "Because it’s a hawthorn tree and folklore has it that the fairies live in hawthorn trees and that they will wreak a terrible revenge on you if you damage their home." This is of course Irish folklore as well. Fionnuala is ashamed of all these things and tries to deny her Irish heritage.
The hawthorn tree can be seen as a symbol of the barrier between the mother and the country England where she does not seem to fit. "The tree is a big bone of contention, not only between Fionnuala and her mother, but between her mother and the neighbours, the council, the tourist board – anyone and everyone." This