My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
|My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A sad, funny and uplifting story about a family in crisis, mourning for a child killed in a terrorist attack. Jamie, the central character, has an offbeat, unflinchingly honest voice that readers won't forget in a hurry.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: March 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has moved to the Lake District because his dad says they need a Fresh Start. With him are his sister Jas, who doesn't eat much, is painfully thin, and who has multiple piercings and hair dyed bright pink, his father, who should be starting a new job on a building site, but who is too hungover to make it to breakfast, let alone into his car and out to work, and his cat, Roger, who relishes the new hunting opportunities and who is the only one of the foursome to be completely happy in his new surroundings.
Jamie's mum isn't there. She has Run Off With The Man From The Support Group. But Jamie's other sister, Rose, is there. She's on the mantelpiece. In an urn. Because Rose was blown up by a terrorist bomb. She's the reason the family needs a Fresh Start. And she's the reason Jamie's mum has Run Off With The Man From The Support Group. And the thing is, Jamie doesn't even miss Rose. He was only five when she died and he can barely remember the living girl. The dead girl, though, Jamie knows all about her. Everyone's life revolves around her: dad's drinking and rages; mum's bid for freedom; Jas's rebellions.
Something has to give. Jamie wants his mother back. He wants to see Jas smile. He wants his father to notice him. He wants to be open about Sunya, who is his only friend at his new school, but unmentionable because she's a Muslim. So, when Jamie sees a TV advert for a talent show, he hatches a plan he feels sure will change everything and get his family back together for good...
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is sad and it's funny and it's sweet and it's many, many things, all at the same time. Jamie's voice is the element of the book that really stands out. He tells it as he sees it and although he gets things wrong sometimes - he's only ten, after all - mostly, he gets things exactly right. He doesn't realise it, but he understands more about what's really important than either of his parents do, as they struggle on inside grief-stricken bubbles, missing the child they've lost and shutting out the two they have left.
Through Jamie, Pitcher is able to be brutally honest about the darkest moments for families in crisis, but she's able to do it without cruelty. Readers will flinch as Jamie's father rants on about Pakis taking over and doing what he wants in his own country and they're all terrorists. And they will die a thousand deaths for this poor boy who is so totally neglected by the people who should be nurturing and protecting him. They'll see the irony that his only succour - aside from fellow sufferer Jas - comes from Sunya, a girl who is rightly proud of her hijab.
I'm making it sound dreadfully dour, which is the one thing My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is not. There are some wonderful comedic set pieces, a sweet and tender friendship, and some totally uplifting moments. I think, too, that there's a great deal of courage in it, and not only from Jamie. Pitcher's taken a few risks here: she's looking at a very contentious and contemporary issue - terrorism and the racism it breeds - head on and without flinching, and she's bet the whole book on the authenticity of Jamie's voice. It isn't an easy thing, talking through a child in this direct and intimate way - how naive do you make him? How much should he understand? Is the vocabulary right? Would he feel that? Think that? Say that? - and it could all have gone very wrong indeed.
But it didn't, and the result is book that is going to find a readership just about anywhere it looks. If it doesn't go viral, I'll eat Jamie's Spiderman t-shirt my hat.
My thanks to the good people at Orion for sending the book.
In many ways, Jamie reminds me of Dolphin in Jacqueline Wilson's classic The Illustrated Mum. I think they might also like Catcall by Linda Newbery, The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd and The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine - all gorgeous books featuring wonderful central characters under great pressure.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2011.
You can read more book reviews or buy My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher at Amazon.com.
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