Everyone kept saying it would get better with time, but that’s just one of those lies that grown-ups tell in awkward situations. Five years on, it’s worse than ever: Dad drinks, Mum’s gone and Jamie’s left with questions that he must answer for himself.
This is his story, an unflinchingly real yet heart-warming account of a young boy’s struggle to make sense of the loss that tore his family apart.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a book that certainly snuck up on me. After about the fifth time of reading the first chapter and setting it aside in favour of a more action-filled story, I finally told myself to sit down and finish reading it already – and I am so glad that I did.
This book deals with a lot of heavy topics – grief, separation, racism, alcoholism, anorexia, bullying – but by presenting these issues through the eyes of a child, they’re simplified to a point where they aren’t overwhelming. The narration is so real and reminded me of some of the conversations that I’ve had with my younger cousins where their profound observations are coupled with innocent musings that (unintentionally) made me laugh.
I absolutely adored Jamie. His life is so much harder than a ten year old’s should be – his sister was killed in a terrorist bombing, his mother has left the family to be with a man that she met at support group, his father has turned to alcohol to numb the pain and, on top of all of that, he has to deal with bullies at school. Despite this, Jamie remains optimistic and tries to make the best of his poor family situation. His innocence and fragile hope was sweet yet heartbreaking, and I spent a good portion of the book fearing that he would eventually grow up and become completely disillusioned with life.
Jas is easily the best sister ever. In a way, she’s had it so much worse than Jamie has – after all, Rose was her twin, and when she finally decided to step out of her sister’s shadow and express her individuality by dying her hair and getting a piercing, her mother left the family. On her birthday. With her dad’s alcoholism and no mother in the picture, she’s been suddenly thrust into the role of primary caregiver. It would have been so easy for her to ignore Jamie’s needs in favour of her own, but she doesn’t and I love her for that. She not only takes care of his basic needs by keeping him fed, but she also takes care of his emotional needs by baking him a cake on his birthday, attending his soccer games, and doing her best to keep him happy and hopeful for as long as possible. There’s a particular scene with Jas and Jamie at the end of the book that had me in tears because of how much they truly love each other.
Jamie’s relationship with Sunya was so sweet and provided excellent commentary on racism. After years of hearing his father mention that Muslims killed Rose, he’s surprised to learn that she also likes superheroes, and comes to realize that she is no different than he is. His response reminded me a lot of the way that children reacted to the controversial Cheerios commercial and made me wish, not for the first time, that everyone could view the world in such a way.
Overall, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a book that everyone should read. It will break your heart, but will also leave you with hope and a new way of viewing the world.