Side note: A slightly edited version of this review originally appears on the women24 website, which you can find here.
Women24.com is a South African women's lifestyle website where I work as an online journo and where you can check out a host of other book reviews that we feature regularly.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
A terrorist attack which took place 5 years ago, a family's ongoing struggle in dealing with the tragic loss and the precocious 10-year old battling to make sense of it all.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher (Orion)
10- year old Jamie hasn't cried since his older sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack 5 years ago.
To him, Rose is just a girl who has become nothing but a hazy memory belonging in a past that he has little to no recollection of. Yet, despite not remembering the events of long ago, living in the present proves to be no easy feat.
The ghost of his sister still haunts his family and her un-scattered ashes reside prominently on the mantelpiece in their living room area.
Ever since Rose died, nothing has been quite the same. His mom has run off with another man, his older sister Jasmine (who is Rose's twin) has dyed her hair pink and stopped eating, and his father... his father has since resorted to the numbing effects of alcohol to drown away the sorrow.
And still Jamie doesn't cry.
Instead, Jamie is more preoccupied with trying to fend off the bullies at school, while trying to hide the fact that he's friends with Sunya, a sparkling brown-eyed Muslim girl. And in between, he still harbours and unshakeable belief that the mother who abandoned them will come back to the family she walked out on and left behind.
When I first heard about My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, something told me that this book with its unusual title, would be a book that would surprise me with its unique brand of special.
And surprise me it certainly did.
I don't often read books where the protagonist of the story is so young, but Annabel Pitcher has created a character whose voice truly and realistically reflects that of a 10-year old.
Jamie is charming, adorable, precocious and incredibly inquisitive. He speaks with the voice of a boy who knows that his family is broken, but is also still on the verge of discovering and understanding the psychology behind his family's grief. In short, he is a character that is easily loveable and gains the reader's sympathy right from the start.
I normally find it very hard to relate to child protagonists, but Jamie catapulted his way straight into my heart.
I was rooting for the boy who was trying so hard to be brave in the face of being bullied and my heart ached for his unwavering, if somewhat misplaced belief that his mother would return.
The wealth of emotions that I felt throughout reading this beautiful story was, for me, an accurate reflection of just how much insight Annabel Pitcher had into the various characters and their stories. I raged at the drunken father and wanted to strangle the mother who abandoned her two children without a second thought.
The sense of parental neglect is incredibly poignant, but, shows an accurate understanding of just what people do when they're drowning in the whirlpool of their own grief.
Still, it isn't all doom and gloom.
There are some wonderfully touching and humorous moments between Jas (Rose's twin who survived) and Jamie.
Jasmine was another character I came to adore and I loved how, in spite of her becoming the caretaker of their household, looking after Jamie wasn't a chore for her, but an act of a sister who truly loves her little brother.
The bond between the two of them is incredible and will definitely have you choking back a few tears. And despite her goth-girl exterior, it soon becomes obvious that Jas is just a 15-year old girl who is confused and bewildered by the responsibility that she has to assume, when it becomes obvious that their father is in no position do to so.
Of course, this review wouldn't be complete without me mentioning his forbidden friendship with Sunya, the twinkly-eyed Muslim girl.
As you can guess, the fact that Rose was killed in a terrorist attack didn't go down well with his parents, especially Jamie's father, who harbours a deep-seated hatred for all Muslims.
Jamie, as he gets to know Sunya, comes to learn that a parent's prejudiced indoctrination can often lead to one missing out on wonderful friendship of his/her life - and watching the growing and beautiful bond between two souls who are both bullied at school come to life, adds to an already exquisite and intricately layered book that every mother, father daughter, sister and brother should read.
A beautiful, hopeful and altogether wonderful read.