The school I am currently placed at are shadowing the Carnegie Medal Award and I have joined them not only because I love book clubs in general and chatting about everyone’s latest read, but because my knowledge of current/popular YA literature desperately needs updating. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the first book from this year’s shortlist that I have picked up and if the rest of the books are as good as this, I will be one happy reader.
The novel is told from the perspective of ten-year old Jamie and focuses on how his family is coping (or should that be failing to cope) with the death of one of his older twin sisters in a terrorist attack five years ago. Rose is a constant present throughout the book, and as the title suggests her urn is placed on the mantelpiece in their father’s house, however Jamie doesn’t really remember her, so although he realises her death is tragic, he does not appear to understand why his parents are having such difficulty coping with her death years later. Pitcher is brilliant at creating role reversals between the parents and Jamie and his sister Jasmine; the children are able to cope and carry on with their lives, whereas the parents, especially their father is inconsolable with grief, which is completely understandable given the circumstances of Rose’s death.
The novel deals with several serious issues, from terrorism to racism, to grief, affairs and death and, having quickly got over my initial shock at the variety of challenging topics discussed, I do feel that Pitcher approaches these in a believable and interesting way. However, I feel let down on one particular subject: that of eating disorders in teenage girls. It is hinted at throughout the novel that Jasmine (Rose’s twin) is incredibly skinny and doesn’t eat, but our ten-year old narrator does not quite understand the seriousness of this. At the end of the copy of the novel I was reading there was a short extract from a sequel entitled Jasmine so I am hoping that Pitcher will explore this issue in more depth in this novel. In hindsight this is probably a better idea, as I can think of many novels where the author has attempted to cram too much in and therefore hasn’t done certain issues the justice they deserve.
Overall I enjoyed this novel. I cried my eyes out at the end when Jamie begins to understand death and grief – it must be something about animals in books, although poor animals on telly have a similar effect. I hope the rest of the shortlisted Carnegie books are as good as this one, but hopefully not as sad, although I have just started Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd’s A Monster Calls and I have a feeling it will be just as serious and upsetting…maybe I’ll invest in a large box of tissues ready for the tears!