My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
London, Indigo, 2011, 221p
Some characters are just too wonderful for words. The first person narrative becomes incredibly powerful, inviting the reader into a vivid world full of love and curiosity and doubt. This is Jamie.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a story about a family coming to terms with loss. Five years ago, Rose died in a terrorist attack. Her father turns to alcohol, whilst her mother leaves for another man. Her twin sister has to step up, always living under the shadow of the ashes that sit on the mantelpiece. But Jamie can't really remember his lost sister. And when he becomes friends from Sunya, he feels like he is betraying his father by spending time with a Muslim.
Written from Jamie's point of view, the narrative is full of naivety and uncertainty. The language is simplistic and emotional, with long child-like sentences. This style really lends itself to creativity, as the imagery is beautifully poetic - particularly memorable is his descriptions of the few strands of hair that escape Sunya's hijab, billowing in the wind.
The relationships that are developed in this book were my highlight. The broken family with their lack of understanding for each other was full of sadness. Even though you want to hate the parents, Pitcher has made them so terribly human, full of flaws, that you can't help but sympathise. Jas and Jamie are incredibly patient as they struggle to keep their heads up, despite their parents being absent from their day-to-day lives.
But best of all is the friendship between Jamie and Sunya - their secretive codes and superhero tendencies make them adorable. Where so many young characters strive to fit in, Sunya and Jamie are more than happy being the misfits.
This is a heart-breaking story - the tragedy of this family conflicts with the optimism of young Jamie, which is slowly worn away by repeated betrayal and abandonment. The children are the hero of this story, with the bravery to show their parents and teachers what is important, and how to deal with life.