Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher


Hardcover, 211 pages
Published 2012 by Galaxy
Source: Purchased

“My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece.
Well, some of her does.
A collarbone, two ribs, a bit of skull, and a little toe.”

I’ve been sitting here for a bit trying to collect my thoughts enough that I can write the kind of coherent review this book deserves. There are so many things I want to speak about and discuss but at the same time, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more appropriate to just ask you to please read this book. It might be the best one you read this year.

The novel has the same poignant flavor as Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden. The same sort of intricate family politics and themes of self-discovery and friendship but I am getting ahead of myself. Maybe the quote tipped you off but the book deals with the way a family copes after one of its members is killed in the horrible terrorist attack in London when bombs went off in trash cans in the city.

The narrator of the story is a ten year old boy and if you think the complexity is compromised by the young age of the narrator and protagonist, please think again. The best thing about using such a young character to tell a grown-up story is that there are so many chances of saying the profoundest of things in the simplest of ways. Jamie’s portrayal of his life, of his longing for his mother, of his inability to steer through the shark infested waters that is elementary school rife with bullies and biased teachers is so on point that you cannot help but be drawn immediately into the story. His voice is fresh, wondering and perhaps, a little intentionally, cheeky. His observations are pertinent and at times may, again unintentionally, make you snort out with laughter. His relationships with his parents and his remaining sister are also shown in a beautiful manner.

“I stared up at the sky and raised my middle finger, just in case God was watching. I don’t like being spied on.”

I am Muslim and often times I have felt uncomfortable reading books that deal with Muslim terrorists simply because I feel that all Muslims are tarred with the same brush whether we deserve it or not. That is why I appreciate the exquisite way in which Pitcher handles the whole issue. I love how she doesn’t demonize or canonize any character. Even those you would happily cast in a black hue are given gray shades and juxtaposed in interesting ways that end up showing their humanity. Sunya and Jamie’s relationship is also one of the strong points in a book that really had nothing but strong points. And I loved the delicate way in which Pitcher made her point about racism and blind hatred.

There is also a cat in this novel and though it does not talk, it has as much presence (if not more) than a person. You have to admire authors who can make you react that way to an animal that is presented throughout the whole novel through someone else’s eyes.

The manner in which Jamie’s family deals with death, the journey to, if not absolution then, acceptance of circumstances. There is as much a warning in here as there is hope. The writing is beautiful and Pitcher again utilizes Jamie’s age to write the most beautiful descriptions in the simplest of ways. Here’s an example:

The leaves in the puddle look like dead goldfish. And all the green as turned brown and purple, as if the hills have got bruises. I like the world this way. Summer’s a bit too bright for me. A bit too happy. Flowers dancing and birds singing like nature’s having a big party. Autumn’s better. Everything’s a bit more droopy and you don’t feel left out of all the fun.

In conclusion, I reiterate: Read this book. You will not regret it. (You might cry though.)

7 responses to “Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

  1. I recently read this book and was blown away just like you! Can’t believe it was really marketed as a children’s book; I think most adults would definitely benefit from a read of it. And so beautifully written as well. Nice review!

    • If you are in North America or places where books in English are available, it should be in any good bookstore. If not, you should try Book Depository. They have free shipping to a number of countries.

  2. Pingback: Books books books! (a roundup) | Abbie's Babble·

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