Jamie and his family are still grieving five years after his older sister Rose was killed during a terrorist bombing in London. In the last few months, Jamie's mom found comfort in the arms of another man and walked out on her family. His father uprooted the kids and moved them out of the city to the Lake District to start over. Dad finds comfort in a bottle and by honoring Rose's ashes, which are kept in an urn on the mantelpiece.
Fifteen-year-old Jasmine, Rose's identical twin, has turned Goth, found a older boy to hang around with, and stopped eating. Jamie is left alone, holding on to the belief that his mother will come back to him. To make matters worse, the only friend Jamie has made in his new school is Sunya. And she's a Muslim, meaning, according to Dad, that she's personally responsible for Rose's death.
Pitcher so exquisitely relates a young boy's loneliness and confusion about his family's situation that it was almost painful to read his story. Jamie doesn't know how to reconcile his feelings about Sunya with his dad's prejudices, and he can't remember Rose well enough to feel the proper grief. Your heart breaks as he makes excuses for why Mum didn't remember his birthday or for why she doesn't come to visit.
It's the incredible realism that makes the book almost too much to handle. Pitcher doesn't back down from the hard issues, including death, mourning, bullying, and prejudice, but neither does she leave her readers dangling. The novel has a satisfying, although not necessarily predictable, ending and gives readers much to think about.
The advertised target age for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is 10 to 14, which is probably because Jamie is so young. I, however, would recommend the novel for high schoolers. Just as Jamie is too young to fully understand and accept his circumstances, young readers may not grasp the complexities of the story.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Hachette Audio; 6 hr), read by David Tennant, who brilliantly voices Jamie's thoughts. Tennant's expression, tempo, and attitude are perfectly suited for a young protagonist. I was impressed with the way he telegraphed Jamie's moods and emotions, which made the audiobook difficult to turn off despite the intensity of the story. It's no wonder My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece won an Earphones award from Audiofile magazine.
I've embedded the trailer, which includes an extract from the novel. The short video doesn't convey the sadness of the book, but it's very well done and gives you a sense of Pitcher's style.
Buy My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece at an Indie or at a bookstore near you (link leads to an affiliate program).
Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown for Young Readers, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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