Book Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Book review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel PitcherMy Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
Published by: Orion Publishing Group
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought, Buy on Waterstones, Book Depository
Goodreads rating: 4.02

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Jamie hasn’t cried since it happened. He knows he should have—Jasmine cried, Mum cried, Dad still cries. Roger didn’t, but then he is just a cat and didn’t know Rose that well, really.

Everyone kept saying it would get better with time, but that’s just one of those lies that grown-ups tell in awkward situations. Five years on, it’s worse than ever: Dad drinks, Mum’s gone and Jamie’s left with questions that he must answer for himself.

This book is about a family that is torn apart after a terrorist attack. For a children’s book the opening of this book is equal parts heart-wrenching and disturbing.

“My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well some of her does. Three of her fingers, her right elbow and her knee cap are buried in a graveyard in London.”

We often see the torn apart after effects of a terrorist attack, the lists of people on news, the #PrayForEveryone hashtags, the outrage that huge attacks can happen. Annabel Pitcher went a step further, she didn’t just put the family on stage for 20 minutes and make them talk about their loss, she opened the doors into the hell that tortures families after events like this. The leftovers after this horrific event is: a Mother who leaves, an alcoholic Father who hates and blames the Muslims and bullying.

The odd thing about this book is that the main character Jamie is essentially abandoned by her parents. Her Mother and Father both stricken with grief at the loss of their daughter abandon their other children. I’m disgusted by the Father who I imagine to be a man who has a subscription to the UKIP mailing list and likes spending time scrolling through Britain First’s Facebook page. I wish Jamie’s Father was explored further. I understand possibly why he wasn’t but I wish he had been. I guess exploring racist, intolerant attitudes is not really in line with the children’s fiction genre.

Jamie begins to deal with the death of his sister by making a new friend, a Muslim girl called Sunya. She is charming and kind and part of the reason this book didn’t turn into a cynical, pointing fingers, demonising one group story. Their friendship is important and necessary.

I hope I’m not breaking any rules when I tell this little story but I remember when I was working at ChildLine as a counsellor, during one of my training sessions I was presented with a scenario. In role play I was presented with a scenario of a child who had called in because his pet fish had passed away. Back then I hadn’t yet realised that the death of a pet can be incredibly traumatising and the first experience of death for a child. The significance of this situation tumbled down upon me at the end of that role play training session. After the death of Jamie’s cat Roger, he breaks down. Having not cried a single tear for his sister, having not been able to digest emotion until this point, Jamie finally break down. Pitcher channels Jamie’s grief and loss into the loss of his cat, a more digestible concept than the loss of his human sister.

Stories that cover death in children’s books are so important and can be great resources for children and adults on the grieving process after they have had a loved one or a loved pet pass away.

This book made me laugh and cry and worry and lots of other emotions. I’ve not read another book that explored the destruction terrorist attacks leave behind. This book is important in recognising that terrorism doesn’t belong to a group or religion, that acts of terror are unmistakably agonising for everyone regardless of race, religion or creed. I’m glad Jamie isn’t his Father.

Have you read My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece? Have you read any of Annabel Pitcher’s other books?