28 February 2011

Book of the Week (91): "My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece" by Annabel Pitcher

Jamie Matthews is ten years old when his Dad relocates him and his teenage sister to the Lake District. A fresh start away from London. He has his cat Roger to keep him company, a brand new Spiderman T-shirt from his birthday, and has just made a new secret friend at school; a Muslim girl called Sunya, the superhero match to his Spiderman.

But beneath the surface the Matthews family is falling apart. His dad is an alcoholic and an emotional wreck, his mum stayed behind in London, and his sister Jas, wilting under a weight of comparison, has dyed her hair pink, gotten a piercing, and stopped eating.

Jamie’s other sister, Rose, lives on the mantelpiece in a golden urn. Jas’s identical twin who was killed in a terrorist attack five years ago. He can’t really remember her and doesn’t understand why the cottage is full of boxes marked ‘scared’. What he does know is that his dad must never find out about his new friend Sunya; and that his mum is going to come back to him soon.

When Jamie sees an advert for a talent show he’s convinced it’s the way to get his mum back and unite his family again.

Dealing with the extreme emotional stress that bereavement places on a family, Pitcher shows us an intimate, forthright, and ultimately heart-warming portrait of a family desperately trying to cope with an unthinkable loss. The character of Jamie Matthews is a genuine and captivating narrator that draws you deep into his complicated life. Not shying away from the serious emotions of grief, or the complications of racial pressure, she presents a brave and beautiful debut novel that is sure to draw a few tears, but leave you feeling hopeful.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is Annabel Pitcher’s first novel. Grown out of a travel notebook, it spans the heavyweight topics of terrorism, grief, and family in one bold masterful stroke; and I greatly look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Recommended by Matthew Humpage

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