A beautiful and intriguing title, I had been interested in reading My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece since we got it in as a hardback, so I was overjoyed when it was included on the longlist for the WCBP 2012, and it did not disappoint…
Jamie’s sister Rose died five years ago. But some of her still lives with them, in an urn on the mantelpiece. Her death (from a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square), has torn his family apart; His Mum has left them for her grief counselor, his sister Jas (Rose’s twin) has stopped eating properly, and his Dad is slowly losing his mind to alcoholism. After moving from London to the Lake District, things start to get worse for the family, despite the best intentions. Jamie fails to make many friends at school, in fact only one girl talks to him, the esoteric and enticing Sunya. But Jamie is torn, because everything his Dad has taught him goes against this: Sunya is a Muslim, and Muslim’s killed his sister. But Jamie doesn’t even remember Rose, and he certainly doesn’t miss her, and Sunya is the most wonderful girl he’s ever known, and the superhero M.Girl! Jamie embarks on a quest to make a friend, and respect his Dad’s wishes, and bring his family back together, and help all coming to terms with Rose’s death. A pretty tall order for a ten year old, but then, Jamie isn’t any old ten-year old… He’s Spiderman.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece really did blow me away. It was so uniquely written, with a style that is captivating and insular. The sense of Jamie’s innocence and positiveness towards life is infectious, but reading of the way he tries to juggle too much at once is so painful, it makes the whole story wonderfully three-dimensional. Sunya is a superb character, full of laughter, pain and intelligence, and the racism of Jamie’s upbringing is dealt with in such a slow and painful way, it’s anger-inducing to read. The reader really feels Jamie’s confusion and pain, and he’s a very lovable character, easy to relate to, which helps lend the story a huge amount of emotional impact. The constant downturns and teetering cliffhangers as chapters go by really does leave the most of the book as an emotional roller-coaster, it’s a fantastic way to keep the plot moving and keep the reader involved and truly caring about what happens to the characters. As the book draws towards its conclusion, the emotional levels draw to maximum, and Jamie’s sense of isolation becomes almost too much to bare. The conclusion is touching though, and an important message is woven through it, making it an ending that will be staying with me for a long long time. The writing in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is wonderful, descriptive and beautifully simple, helping bring some incredibly complex views out of the mouth and mind of a ten-year old boy, and building up a sense of loneliness and despair, as well as joy, friendship and hope. Annabel Pitcher has a real talent for working words to tug on heartstrings and captivate audiences, and at no point of this book did I feel bored or distanced from the scenarios in any way, quite the opposite, I really felt connected with the characters despite their flaws, weaknesses and mistakes.
I’d strongly recommend reading this one, for adults and teenagers alike, it teaches a very important idea that far too many people still need to learn about acceptance. And also, Sunya is a brilliant character, you’ll love her.