You can’t tell a book by its cover. I received an ARC from the publisher; I’m glad they changed it. I only wish I hadn’t procrastinated reading this book. Unusually, I find the manner in which the family’s separation is resolved to be trite and cheap. In this case, it was necessary. The family members might not have found themselves back to each other. It was very sad, but often you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose something else very important to you.
Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, deals with the tragedy of a family torn apart by a terrorist attack. Jamie has ginger hair and a wonderful cat called Roger. What Jamie doesn’t have is his older sister, Rose, who was killed by a bomb which exploded in London when Jamie was just five years old. Although everyone in the family tries to live with what’s happened, it’s impossible. Jamie’s dad starts to drink too much, Rose’s twin sister, Jas, dyes her hair pink and Jamie’s mum moves out to live with another man called Nigel.
The story begins when, just before Jamie’s 10th birthday, he, Jas, their dad and Roger move to the Lake District. Jamie has to cope with starting at a new school and making new friends as best as he can without the help of either of his parents. His dad’s too sad and too drunk and his mum’s not there. Throughout the book, all he wants is to have a happy family again.
This book tackles interesting subjects in a realistic, honest way. At school, Jamie has to worry about friendships and bullying. At home, he has to worry about death, divorce and change. The issues of racism, religious differences and injustice also feature in the story. The aftermath of the terrorist attack is handled sensitively and the characters discover a way to live together in peace.
Also, the book tackles the idea that even when dreams come true, there’s always a risk that you’ll end up feeling terribly disappointed.
The way the book is written, Jamie seems like a real person. I think this is because the author explains the many controversial subjects through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy who obviously doesn’t think about them in the same way as an adult would.
Even though his sister had been killed, his parents are getting divorced and he feels terribly sad and lonely, he still has to carry on and try to stay positive. It’s a great reminder that we often don’t always know what’s happening in our friends’ lives and sometimes they might be feeling sad at school because of what’s going on at home.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece has become a bestseller and has been translated into many languages. It was shortlisted for the Red House Children’s Book Award, The Galaxy milk chocolate Children’s Book of the Year, the 2012 Carnegie Medal in Literature, and the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize. It won a Royal Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Award, the Hull Children’s Book of the Year and the prestigious 2012 Branford Boase Award for most outstanding debut novel.