In all honestly, I wasn’t that interested in this book when I first saw it in Waterstone’s a year or so ago, but when I downloaded a free sample of it onto my Kindle earlier this year, I discovered two things – one, it was a lot better than I had first assumed, and two, I really wanted to read this book. Last week, I found out that my friend had it and she offered to lend it to me, which I accepted. I started it on Sunday night, but only read half of it because it kept making me so sad, and because I was exhausted anyway. Tonight I sat and read the other half. I also had my heart broken and found out how difficult it is to laugh, cry and go “Aw, no, no…” all at the same time.
I’ve read many books that have made me cry, including Clockwork Princess, Before I Die, The Fault In Our Stars, and The Way I See It, but none of those books have ever made me want to cry within the first four pages. Yes, four pages. And no, I wasn’t just being overly emotional – I got two of my friends to read those pages too, and they definitely had teary eyes by the end as well. The emotional impact of this book grabs you from the first three sentences (this claim can be made about so many books, but it is just so, so true for this one) and doesn’t let you ago, not even when you’ve finished it. I can already tell that this is going to be a book that will stick in my mind for a long time yet, and one I’ll be going back to for a good few years to come.
As a brief summary, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is about a young boy, Jamie, whose older sister, Rose, died five years ago. It’s a book about how his family cope – or, in all honestly, don’t really cope – and how they’ve changed since it happened. But it’s about more than that – the book doesn’t just focus on the family, it focuses on Jamie’s own life, in school and out. It covers racism, the death of a child, and how quickly life changes. And it covers it all brilliantly.
The thing that I didn’t like about this book is something that I quickly grew to love – the voice of the narrator, ten–year–old Jamie. The book is told in 1st Person through him, which explains why the book can sound so childish, and, at times, quite selfish over silly things. I didn’t like this at first because a few of the sentences were quite short and it seemed to jump quite suddenly at points – but then I remembered, Jamie is ten. His thoughts are going to be all over the place as he finds something more interesting to talk about – heck, at 17 I jump from subject to unrelated subject almost as quickly as Jamie does! – and he’s not going to use the most extensive vocabulary you’ll ever hear. That’s what makes him such a good character, the fact that he’s so real. There’s also the fact that you can’t help but feel so sorry for him, but mostly I find that it’s because he’s so well–written.
In fact, all the characters in this book are. Jas is a favourite of mine, as well as her boyfriend Leo. Jas is (was?) Rose’s twin and, like many twins, they grew up being dressed exactly the same, getting exactly the same presents on their birthdays, so on and so forth. This changed not long after their 10th birthday, when their brother Jamie was five. Rose died in a bomb attack, and family life just changed from then on. On her 15th birthday, Jas has cut her hair and dyed it pink and had her nose pierced – and this, I feel, was just the icing on the cake for her parents. She didn’t look like Rose anymore; she was her own person, something her parents hadn’t given her the chance to be. I think this is what set off the next chain of events, that and the fact that they discovered their mother was cheating on their dad with a guy from the Support Group. Part of the reason I love Jas is that, despite everything, she’s always there for Jamie. They’ve just moved to a new place where they don’t know anyone, and their dad drinks. But Jas, despite having lost her twin sister, tries her very best to stay strong, because their mum isn’t around, their dad isn’t reliable, and Jamie is only 10. Bearing in mind Jas herself is only 15, I think she does a pretty good job of looking after her brother, and her dad. Leo is Jas’ boyfriend, and although he’s definitely not really a heavy focus, the few times he’s said something have been pretty funny, and he’s just generally one of those characters that don’t feature much, but you really love them when they’re around. And he has green hair and a lip piercing – who wouldn’t love him?
Sunya, a girl in Jamie’s class, is one of the other main focuses in the book. She’s a Muslim, and when Jamie is told to sit next to her on his first day at his new school, he’s not too pleased – after all, it was a terrorist attack that killed his sister, and his dad has always told him the Muslim’s were trouble and “all the same”. However, Jamie and Sunya very quickly become friends (and they have such a lovely friendship; it just makes me laugh because they’re only 10 and the things they get up to and say are just so childish and funny), even though Jamie’s worried about his dad finding out – he knows he wouldn’t be happy at all, and as we later discover, he definitely isn’t. Jamie’s dad has become very racist since the day Rose was killed (there’s no reference as to whether or not he was before, but I don’t think so), and Jamie is constantly torn between wanting to obey his dad and wanting to be friends with Sunya. I feel that the racism aspect is dealt with pretty well, and even though neither Jamie nor Jas call their dad out on his behaviour, they certainly don’t follow his hatred either.
As well as having some plain brilliant characters, the book itself is also wonderful. One of the things I like about it is the fact that whenever someone speaks, it’s written in italics, like this. I assume the author did this because, as mentioned earlier, the book is from the perspective of a young boy, and he’s just telling the story as he hears/sees it – there’s no punctuation marks for anyone talking, because he doesn’t see them there, it’s just words that have different emphasis on them because he’s not thinking them, they’re being spoken. That’s not quite how I was going to explain that, but my original reasoning has just completely left me, so I’ve tried to piece together (not very well, I know) what I think I thought.
Without wanting to give anything away, because I think you ought to read it yourself to find out what happens, I’m not going to mention anything more on the plot because knowing me I’ll spoil something, which I really don’t want to do. I think I’ll finish by saying that I highly recommend reading this, and even if at first you don’t like the manner in which it’s told – persevere. I’m sure you’ll grow to love and understand it, as I did, and it definitely adds to the book.
Oh, and be sure to have some tissues handy when you’re reading – I had to make do with using my jumper sleeves, and that just hurt. So I really advise using tissues instead!