I’ve read 14 books so far this year, not including this one. I’ve read from Dan Brown thrillers to racial dramas. I’ve read books that I would consider modern day works of art. Books that stir my emotions and force me to question humanity and what makes us the complex beings we are. But none of them have sparked a resonance within me like the novel I just finished.
I have a personal history that would cause this novel to affect me perhaps more than others. It’s a book about a family torn apart by the death of a child. The novel is narrated by ten year old Jamie who lost his sister Rose in a terrorist attack. In Jamie’s own words, she was blown to bits, leaving their Mum and Dad to break up and Rose’s twin sister Jas to spiral into loneliness and depression.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a novel about loss, but more importantly about families. Bereavement is a dangerous thing for the human mind; it’s something that can break many people into quivering wrecks. Annabel Pitcher creates a world destroyed by the absence of a person, a child. It’s a bleak book the carries the meaning of families within its pages.
Jamie’s existence is one lead by obsession and doubt. He never knows if his Mother loves him after she left with another man and his Father spends too much of his time drunk to care. Jamie only has his sister Jas to turn to when his life is affected by the ups and downs of a child’s life. And even then, Jas lost her twin and has begun to lead a life of rebellion with pink hair and black make up.
The beauty of this novel lies in the innocence of Jamie and his thoughts. With a Father that is forever cursing Muslims for what happened to his Daughter, Jamie is torn when he befriends a Muslim girl, Sunya, in his new school.
Beneath the narrative is an emotionally charged novel that is incredibly important. It not only address’ the concept of bereavement, but the racial tensions in our country as we are faced with an unseen enemy. There’s a wonderful moment when Jamie is invited to Sunya’s house to play and is scared that her Dad might be building bombs in his bedroom. The book is full of childlike observations that many adults are currently guilty of.
It’s a powerful novel that breaks down emotional human reaction brilliantly. For me, it was like looking at an alternative universe. After my wife and I lost our Daughter we pulled together for our other children and built a safer home. Reading Pitcher’s novel I was faced with the raw emotions that I once felt. The author must have heavily researched child bereavement because her depictions of the thoughts and feelings are spot on. Not once did I read a line that was out of place.
As well as being bold, it’s also a brave novel in the voice that Jamie uses. Of course he’s a child and speaks like one. It is not too dissimilar to Mark Haddon’s prose in The Curious Incident, but to some, Jamie may be a little too blunt. His descriptions of his emotions and what happened to his sister do not tiptoe around anyone else. But that makes it all the more authentic. Here is a child expected to grieve for someone he barely remembers. He is scared to be himself and Pitcher writes his fear and trepidation brilliantly.
It may sound like a bleak and tiresome novel, but it’s a work of art in the young adult genre. It’s a coming of age book like no other. It’s important to remember that this book is written with young adults and teenagers in mind. They can read this book and realise the damage that comes from death and emotions, when not properly dealt with. But that’s not to say that adults won’t learn, too. Annabel Pitcher has penned a novel that can be consumed within a day and be thought about forever.
I’ve now read 15 books this year and this is by far the best. It’s an important book that should be read by all, whether you’ve lost somebody or not. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece will stay with me for years. If Pitcher doesn’t receive praise and accolades for this novel, it would be a crime.