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 is his story, an unflinchingly real yet heart-warming account of a young boy’s struggle to make sense of the loss that tore his family apart.
This is a bold, brilliantly written piece on family, loss and how to cope.
Jamie Matthews is a 10-year old boy whose family has been ripped apart by tragedy. His sister Rose was killed in a terrorist bombing in London five years ago. Rose’s twin, Jas, now lives totally in her shadow according to their parents, and Rose’s ashes sit in an urn, almost taunting the Matthews family with her presence.
Jamie’s parents are a mess. His father is an alcoholic, raging against all Muslims for “killing” his daughter, and his mother left them to be with a guy from her support group. With no work in London, Jamie’s father moves them to the Lake District, where he hopes to get work and be able to get away from things, But as soon as they get there, Rose’s urn gets put right back on the mantelpiece, and Jamie knows things will be exactly the same.
So what does he do? He befriends the one person he’s not supposed to befriend, a Muslim girl named Sunya. And he tries to find a way to fix his family by holding out hope that his mum will come back, and doing his best in school. Problem is, he’s being bullied at school, his teacher doesn’t really like him, and his dad can’t get his act together.
The brilliance of this book is in the voice of Jamie, who narrates everything in with the gorgeous innocence of someone who doesn’t really understand tragedy. He doesn’t remember Rose, and he doesn’t really miss her because of that. All he knows is that his family can’t cope, and his dad pays more attention to the memory of Rose than he does to Jamie or Jas.
This is an incredibly sad story, but it’s not depressing. Through Jamie’s innocence, we still get a lot of light and humour in the darkness, particularly with Sunya, who is pretty much the coolest, most clever kid ever. At times, I felt frustrated (as I should have), because I wanted so badly for Jamie’s parents to get their acts together and realize what amazing kids they had, and how they needed to keep living for them, but I don’t think it could have worked any other way. The strenght of this story is in its realism and Pitcher’s understanding that things aren’t going to magically get worked out.
I know this review doesn’t say that much, but honestly, I don’t want to spoil it. The back half of the story is so beautiful and emotional, and the climax so heart-wrenching that I can’t even talk about it – although animal-lovers should beware.
It’s not perfect, but this book is a definite middle-grade winner.
Have you read MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE? What did you think?