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Mmm books - they taste good in my brain. So I decided to work in publishing and feed my habit. So now for a living I read wonderful children's books and tell everyone how great they are. It's called publicity! Many thanks to Oliver Jeffers for the name inspiration and header image.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Carnegie meal number 5 - My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher

I've been resisting this one for a while - I think pretty much every kids publisher had wanted to publish it and there had been a lot of pre-publication chatter and hype which always makes me a little cautious of the finished product! I wasn't surprised to see it on prize lists as I had perceived it to be "worthy" and topical from the plot descriptions. However I was really pleasantly surprised with this book.

The plot follows 10 year old Jamie whose sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack. Her twin sister Jasmine survived and is left to live within their now fractured family with Jamie. Their father has become bitter and angry and often blames their mother, who is distant and disconnected from the family. The father has also grown to distrust any muslims, believing them all to be terrorists and is struggling to cope with his grief through heavy drinking.

The story is told very genuinely from a child's point of view - in this it reminded me of one of this year's big adult books, Room by Emma Donoghue. His voice is very innocent and it's heartbreaking to see the family's disfunction through his eyes. As the children left behind in tragedy, Jamie and Jasmine find themselves more neglected and invisible rather than more cared for. With a move to the countryside, Jamie also finds himself forming a tender young friendship with a girl at his new school, but there's just one problem: Sunya is a Muslim.

Jamie experiences so much in this book and it isn't necessarily all the big problems he has to deal with which are the best bits of the story - small triumphs against the school bully and moments of realising how much his sister is doing to help him along behind the scenes - these are the bits that really got me. Well and a scene with a cat which made me weep for a good 20 minutes... But my point is, this book isn't really about a family affected by a terrorist attack. It's just about a family - it doesn't matter what caused their fractures, because what comes after could be scenes from any number of family's difficulties. It's so beautifully observed and heart-touching, and not really an issue book in the way I was expecting. The nearest book I could compare it to would be Moon Pie by Simon Mason which has a similar family set-up and is equally wonderful!

I do think this book really deserves all the praise it has received - ignore the attention grabbing stuff about terrorism (and sorry, but I'm not a fan of this cover at all...) and read it as a sensitive and touching examination of a family in trouble.

My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece is out now in paperback and is long listed for the Carnegie Medal.


  1. I loved this book! One of the best book that I read last year.

  2. I won this book in a competition. Great review! I'm really looking forward to reading it. :)

  3. Im going to be completely honest and say that the cover has put me off this book since it came out. I just really don't like it and I can't bring myself to read it... Now that the paperback is out and is much nicer I think I will read it but I'm putting it off cos the story sounds so sad! :(

  4. Hey, I'm listening to the audio at the moment - it's read by David Tennant! So far, so well written!