by Annabel Pitcher
Reviewed by Maggie: August 15, 2012
Published: August 14, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece takes place five years after bombs went off in London killing 62 people. The story follows the aftermath of the family of the youngest victim, Rose, from the perspective of her now 10-year-old brother, Jamie. Jamie's parents, unable to deal with the blame and guilt they place on one another, have finally split up. Jamie and Jas, Rose's twin, move with their father out into the country. One benefit, according to their father, is to get away from Muslims. After all, Muslims killed his daughter. Another benefit is the job waiting for him, something he couldn't find in London what with all the foreigners stealing jobs. Never mind the bottle of vodka he empties everyday. Jamie goes to his new school, where he's picked on and told to "go back to London." The only person who smiles at him is Sunya, the girl wearing a hijab. But Muslims killed his sister and he's supposed to honor his father, who hates Muslims, isn't he?
A middle grade book dealing with terrorism and death? Needless to say, I had my doubts. However, Annabel Pitcher confronts issues like hate, loyalty, and loss in such a straightforward way that its simplicity belies its depth. Even more impressive, she confronts the pressure to grieve.
Jamie grieves the loss of his family and his parents' marriage, but he doesn't cry over the sister he barely remembers. How can he? He was 5 years old when she died. His parents and various therapists, though, tell him it just hasn't hit him yet. His mother once made him change a school essay on a special person from a soccer player to Rose, and the story she made him use resulted in his being teased mercilessly by the other students. Poor kid. Over 20 years later and parents still don't understand. As much as I hated Jamie's parents, I loved this storyline because I wonder how many kids who've prematurely lost parents and siblings and relatives are acting how they THINK they should instead of how they actually feel. And I wonder how many kids know that it's okay to feel... nothing. Or close to nothing. How do you mourn someone you barely know or remember? I always hear kids being told that it's okay to cry, it's okay to cry, but it's also okay not to cry.
Jamie also struggles to reconcile his father's view of evil, murderous Muslims with the bright, sunny girl who keeps extending her hand to him. Sunya, seeing Jamie's fascination with superheroes and Spiderman, claims that she's a superhero too. She proudly points to her hijab as part of her superhero costume. I loved Sunya. She's bold and fierce, loyal and kind. She doesn't shy away from her identity, even as the kids call her Curry Breath and other names.
While Jamie and Sunya's relationship is born of struggle, Jamie's relationship with his sister Jas is based purely on love. This is the relationship that made me cry. Jas is just a kid herself and she's lost her twin, but she refuses to let Jamie be hurt. She tries to do the job of two parents as best as her 15-year-old self can. Older sisters, be sure to drain the battery on your phone beforehand so you don't end up calling your mortified younger brothers.
It's sad to say that a book like this is timely and necessary, especially for a younger audience, but it is. It's also hopeful and surprising. A very strong debut by first time author Annabel Pitcher.
Rating: 4/5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.