Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has just moved to the Lake District with his Dad and his teenage sister, Jasmine for a ‘Fresh New Start’. Five years ago his sister’s twin, Rose, was blown up by a terrorist bomb. His parents are wrecked by their grief, Jasmine turns to piercing, pink hair and stops eating. The family falls apart. But Jamie hasn’t cried in all that time. To him Rose is just a distant memory. Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spiderman T-shirt, and in keeping his new friend Sunya a secret from his dad. And in his deep longing and unshakeable belief that his Mum will come back to the family she walked out on months ago. When he sees a TV advert for a talent show, he feels certain that this will change everything and bring them all back together once and for all. (From Amazon.co.uk)
Wow. My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. Right from the most brutally honest opening chapter, which works only because of the author’s ability to capture her young narrator’s voice so perfectly, I was sucked in and throughout the next 240 pages felt every emotion possible.
Told from the perspective of ten-year-old Jamie, the beauty of this book comes from his simplistic and naïve view of the world. Jamie’s sister, Rose, was killed by a terrorist bomb in London five years previously and his family has all but fallen apart in the aftermath. His mother has moved out and his father’s become dependant on alcohol to cope with his grief. His elder sister Jas, Rose’s twin sister, is doing her best to keep home life together but she’s only fifteen and has problems of her own. So when their father announces they are moving from London to the Lake District everyone is hopeful of a fresh start. But Jamie soon realises that things aren’t going to be much different in the new town as the family’s grief follows them.
I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to grab hold of Jamie and hug him tightly throughout. The neglect both emotionally and physically from parents, so consumed with grief it’s eating them up, broke my heart. It also made me angry, yes they’d lost one child but what about the one’s who were living? Yet Jamie’s naïve and childlike understanding, desperate need to protect and continued belief in his parent’s stops you in your tracks and makes you think. And that’s Jamie all through the book. He sees things without the complexities grown-ups do. His ponderings may be simplistic, but they are enough to shame an adult.
While the book is told entirely from Jamie’s point of view, we also get to know Jas, the sister who has lived in her dead twin’s shadow all these years, quite well. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt pride in a character in a book before, but that’s what I felt for Jas. The relationship between her and Jamie is touchingly beautiful and tender, with Jas taking on an almost maternal role. Then there’s Sunya, the only child at school who talks to Jamie, who without saying anything seems to understand him, who also brings out the more mischievous and playful side to him. I loved her. Jamie’s dilemma between loyalty to his new friend and fear of his father’s racism is again heartbreaking and thought provoking.
My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece is an acutely raw and honest account of a family torn apart by grief. Pitcher doesn’t shy away from the truth, nor sugarcoat it in anyway. Issues such as terrorism, racism, bullying and alcoholism make it a shocking, brave and extremely current novel and intensely thought provoking. It’s also at times very funny and between the tears, shock, heartache and anger I also laughed, smiled and felt extremely hopeful. This is a book aimed at children, and despite the difficult themes it remains suitable for readers aged over 11-12 years. In fact I think this is a book that children should read, along with their parents or teachers and then discussed. There’s a lot to take from it for any age group. I think this book is also going to have a huge crossover appeal in much the same way The Book Thief or The Curious Incident Of the Dog In The Night-time did and will also be very much appreciated by adults.
Annabel Pitchers debut novel is one of those absolutely perfect books, one which is not only very, very good but also grabs hold of you then remains with you long after you’ve turned the last page. One of the most beautifully written and touching books I’ve read, I can not recommend it highly enough and struggle to in anyway do it justice with my review. This is a book and an author to watch out for.
Published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books March 2011
Thanks to the publisher for providing an advance readers copy for review.