Shazaan's Reviews > My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
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Jun 18, 2012

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Introducing as it does some serious issues, such as depression, terrorism and racism, My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece could effortlessly turn into an uncomfortable and offensive book yet Annabel Pitcher creates an expert balance and manages to deal with these heavy issues with delicacy and humour through the eyes of ten-year-old Jamie Matthews.

Jamie’s family falls apart five years after his sister is killed in a terrorist attack. Struggling to cope with their daughter’s death the parents were suffering hardships for a long time, when the pin dropped and Mum walked out.

Jasmine, or as Jamie calls her- ‘Jas’, Rose’s twin, is also greatly affected by this tragic loss that occurred when she and Rose were about ten years old. She resorts to pink hair dye, piercings and abstaining from food.

To get away from it all and start afresh, Dad moves the family to Lake District.

“Jas and Rose were running through the birds making them twirl into the sky and Mum was laughing but Dad said Stop that girls. Mum said They’re not doing any harm but Jas ran back to Dad ‘cos she hated getting in trouble. Rose was not as good. In fact she was quite bad and according to Jas she was naughty at school, but no one seems to remember that now she is all dead and perfect. Jas held Dad’s hand as he shouted Rose, get back here but Mum just said Oh, leave her be and giggled when Rose spun on the spot, throwing her head back. Birds swirled all around her and Mum yelled Spin faster, and then there was a bang and Rose was blown into bits”

Regarding the layout of the book when I first laid eyes on it, I mistook the drawing of the girl and the colours to be a light and laid-back read. And as soon as I read the first sentence, I was stunned with the straightforwardness of it, “My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does. Three of her fingers, her right elbow and her kneecap are buried in a graveyard in London”. It seems that Jamie has been through so much that any child should never have to endure. But Jamie doesn’t realise this and at times he is so clueless, well- as clueless as a child should be.

Jamie deeply misses his mother, and urgently waits for her return. Which never seem to come. When he receives a Spiderman t-shirt as a birthday present from her, he refuses to take it off as he feels it’s his only connection with his mother. I can very much relate to this as my mother once went on a trip to America for only ten days, and I found a blue ribbon on her suitcase. I kept that ribbon on my finger for the entire period and I can somewhat understand Jamie’s situation no matter how childlike.

To make matters worse, Jamie’s dad develops an addiction to alcohol and doesn’t fulfil his duties as a parent very well. He becomes fixated with the urn in which Rose’s ashes remain.

Jamie’s sister Jasmine has an important role in the book; she holds together the last of the broken ties of the family and is tasked with all the jobs, such as keeping her dad decent and presentable. It really is unfair. Jamie counts on her and loves her dearly. There is a special addition of a chapter at the end of the book from the perspective of Jas on the day of her fifteenth birthday, the day she finally dyed her hair, finally looked herself rather than Rose’s twin.

Arriving at Ambleside Church of England Primary, Jamie is shocked to be sat next to the only Muslim girl in the entire school, Sunya, he feels guilty whenever he makes any sort of interaction with her. But on the other hand, she remains by his side when the other students bully him. At times, Jamie doesn’t retaliate to the bullying and acts indifferent to it which leaves the reader unsatisfied. Jamie’s OK with being second- best.

He develops a sociable relationship with Sunya, but Jamie’s father reacts badly to this friendship. He has a very discriminatory view of Muslims, because Islamic extremists planted that bomb attack that killed Rose. However, Jamie clearly sees that it was not Sunya, who detonated the bombs. His juvenile simplicity often shows the blemish in adult logic.

The style of writing Pitcher uses is very qualified – she succeeds in giving an honest viewpoint of what a young boy’s thoughts would be like. An example of this would be how she writes ‘cos instead of because, and how mum and dad- are spelt with capital letters giving a very childish and innocent touch. But on the other hand, she has made the father extremely prejudiced- after the terrorist attack he is convinced that all Muslims are extremists, this is quite offensive to some people and sometimes it got a bit excessive. At parent’s evening, Jamie’s dad spots a Muslim greeting his son and starts mistreating the woman, this was definitely unnecessary though I predict Pitcher needed to get her point across.

Pitcher includes subtle humour, which made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion- but also succeeded in bringing tears to my eyes.

Jamie finds it difficult to mourn the death of someone he can’t remember. Rose is nothing more than a memory. Towards the end of the book, a drastic event which personally, I saw coming causes Jamie to finally realise what the loss meant to his parents.

Overall, My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece has proven to be a brilliant novel, I have been blown away by both, the imagination and quality of Annabel Pitcher’s writing, it was truly fantastic. I am a fan of this author and felt completely drawn into this plot she created. I felt understanding with the characters, the environment, their strives and joys.

I definitely expected a lot from this book, and was not disappointed. It totally deserves its place in the Carnegie shortlist and may even make its way to be the winner. A fine read!


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