01 November 2012

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was a difficult book for me. There is quite a bit that's excellent about this story of a 10-year-old boy and his family. On the other hand, I found it to be somewhat depressing, which naturally colors my thoughts.

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
ISBN-13: 9780316176903

Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


Unknown 11/1/12, 6:11 AM  

I listened to this on audio and loved it. It is interesting to see that you found this depressing becasue I didn't find it to be. I thought there were some beautiful, touching moments (especially involving the urn on the mantlepiece) but I thought it was quite a heartwarming book about how a family can overcome just about anything. I thought Tennent did a fantastic job of narrating this one and hope he decides to read more audio books in future.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 11/1/12, 6:42 AM  

The title alone gives me chills, but I do think I would like to try it. Thanks for sharing with us.

Julie P. 11/1/12, 6:43 AM  

So funny we both reviewed this today! I agree with Jackie. While the book delved into some depressing topics, I thought it was touching and even funny at times. I didn't finish it depressed at all. Rather I thought one of the main messages was hope.

Sandy Nawrot 11/1/12, 6:43 AM  

OK based on you, Julie and Jackie, I'm thinking that I need to listen to this, but in the RIGHT MOOD. Because if I am feeling down or irritable already, this is probably not the thing to turn to.

bermudaonion 11/1/12, 8:54 AM  

Between you and Julie, I feel like I need to experience this on audio. I know it's sad, so I'll have to pick the right time to read it.

Shan 11/1/12, 10:59 AM  

Wow, this sounds so heavy I was surprised to see it's a book aimed at younger kids! Sounds interesting, I hadn't heard of this one but will look for it.

Nise' 11/1/12, 11:32 AM  

I saw this book at the library and after reading the blurb put it back knowing I was not in the right mood.

Carrie K. 11/1/12, 12:47 PM  

I think this one will go on the "maybe someday" list - I just can't do heavy reading right now.

Jenners 11/1/12, 4:16 PM  

It sounds pretty heavy duty .. I would agree that this book sounds like it better suited for older readers.

Vasilly 11/1/12, 9:13 PM  

From the title of this, I wasn't really interested. Now, after reading your review, I want to read this. Will see if my library has this on audio.

Unknown 11/16/12, 5:08 PM  

Ah… I loved this on when I read it soon after it came out over here. Found it a really emotional experience.

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