4 July 2011
Review 33: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
At the start of the novel Jamie, Jasmine and their Dad leave London for a fresh start in the Lake District. At his new school, Jamie struggles to fit in but makes a friend in Sunya despite his Dads warnings that all Muslims are terrorists. The novel is the story of Jamie trying to work out how to live his life with his family. It is both lovely and upsetting as a story. Jamie is a heartbreaking hero as he desperately wants his family to get back to normal and struggles with the fact that he can hardly remember Rose, let alone miss her. Despite this melancholic concept, the novel has some lovely moments and Jamie's realisation that his Dad is wrong and that Sunya is a true friend and a person beyond her religion is a strong message for young adult readers.
This is not a book that is pushed along by an exciting plot, it is a thoughtful, yet still unputdownable, novel about family and friendship told in a unique way. It's quite an easy read despite the heavy themes which make it a great book for all ages as it has lots to think about but is also very accessible. There is also lots that will ring true to many children and teenagers in its discussion of parent and sibling relationships as well as school, bullying and race.
Whilst Jamie is a natural narrator for the story, the characters that really stand out are Jasmine and Sunya who are two very different girls who are carefully and wonderfully created. Jasmine struggles under the burden of having to be a parent to Jamie as well as trying to be a teenager herself. Her parents forced her to dress like Rose for years and couldn't deal with her eventual insistence to be her own person, which resulted in her dying her own hair pink. Jasmine tries so hard to be everything to everyone and your heart goes out to her as she struggles to deal with her own issues as well as protect the rest of her family. Sunya is an equally strong character as she shows Jamie there is more to someone than their race or religion. Sunya is such an appealing character; brave but sensitive and determined to be herself in the face of ignorance. I also appreciate the way her attitude to her religion was presented; when she explains to Jamie why she wears a head covering we see a character who is comfortable with what she believes and it is a strong advert to young readers to not be embarrassed of what makes you you.
There's also some characters who are truly awful. Jamie's teacher is simpering and awful and a bad advertisement for teachers. One of his bullying classmates, Daniel, caused me to seethe with anger. Jamie's Dad is an appalling parent who is obsessed with Rose's ashes and forces the rest of his family to act as he feels; Jamie has to constantly speak about and reminisce about a sister he does not remember. His unfailing belief that his mother will eventually rejoin his family is heartbreaking and as an adult reader you know that he will be repeatedly disappointed. Jamie grows up throughout the novel as he begins to see people for what they really are and work out his own thoughts and feelings. Pitcher makes us really feel for his small triumphs and his setbacks and we really root for him to gain some semblance of security and happiness.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is an excellent young adult novel with some very appealing central characters and plenty of thought-provoking content for teenagers. I think this is going to be a book that is going to be well discussed and rightly so.