My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

15th Feb 2011

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a heartbreaking, blackly funny and beautiful story told by ten-year-old Jamie Matthews.

His parents’ marriage has fallen apart, Rose’s twin Jas has stopped eating, and their Dad has taken to drinking too much and talking to the urn of Rose’s ashes on the mantelpiece.

They move to the Lake District in the hope of leaving those painful memories behind, but their problems are far from over.

You’d think that a novel which interweaves so many troubling issues into an already tragic storyline would be unsettling and upsetting.

But despite featuring divorce, terrorism, racism, bullying, bereavement, alcoholism and eating disorders, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is still an uplifting read.

And that’s down to Pitcher’s skill at characterisation, pacing and pitch-perfect dialogue. Jamie’s voice is original, compelling and authentic.

Sweetly sentimental, at times clumsy and awkward and often naively idealistic, his narration effectively captures the other characters and events alongside his own emotions and idiosyncrasies.

Only five years old when Rose died, Jamie can barely remember her, and is instead more concerned with the problems he faces on a daily basis, from classroom politics to family tensions.

As he becomes closer to Jas and develops a friendship with schoolyard superhero Sunya, whose race and religion he has been taught to distrust ever since Rose’s death, Jamie comes to more fully understand friendship, family and identity, but without the ‘issues’ ever feeling forced.

As a début novel, it’s incredibly accomplished, powerful and poignant, written with real warmth and affection, and handles an uncomfortable subject with skilled sensitivity and ease.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is published by Orion Books on 1st March.