My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
is a coming-of-age novel by British author Annabel Pitcher, first published in 2011. It focuses on and is narrated by ten-year-old Jaime Mathews, who moves with his teenage sister Jas and their alcoholic father to the country from their home in London, after his mother has an affair and leaves the family. The title refers to Rose, Jamie’s older sister and Jas’ twin, who was killed five years ago in a terrorist bombing. Although Jas has been deeply traumatized by her twin sister’s death, Jamie was only five when she was killed and didn’t really know her that well. He struggles to understand the depth of his family’s grief, which complicates things when he befriends Sunya, a Muslim girl at his new school, and comes up against his father’s deep prejudice against Muslims. Exploring themes of grief, growing up, identity, and bigotry in the age of terrorism, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
was highly praised for its nuanced take on mature issues through the eyes of a child. It won the 2012 Branford Boase Award and was nominated for multiple other awards.My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
begins as Jamie Matthews observes a yearly ritual that his father takes. Every year, he takes Rose’s ashes to the ocean, planning to empty them and let her go. However, every year he returns with the urn, unable to take that step. Then, on Jas’ fifteenth birthday and what would have been Rose’s fifteenth, Jamie’s mother announces that she’s been having an affair with a man she met in a grief support group. She’s leaving to be with him, and Jamie’s father is crushed. Desperate for the fresh start, Jamie’s father packs up the whole family and moves them to the country. Jamie likes the big new house, very different from their apartment in London, and his cat Roger loves being able to roam free. However, he struggles in his new school. When he arrives for his first day, Jamie is placed next to a young Muslim girl named Sunya. Jamie knows that his father hates Muslims, blaming the entire group for the terrorist bomb that killed Rose. He had said that he hoped there would be no Muslims in the country, but now Jamie has one next to him in school. Sunya is friendly, and tries to befriend Jamie, but Jamie ignores her because he doesn’t want to upset his father.
Jamie misses his mother and hopes that she’ll come for a visit. He receives a birthday present from her, a Spider-man shirt, and he decides that he’ll wear it until she comes to visit him. He wears the same shirt every day, refusing to take it off, until Jas buys him deodorant to keep the smell to a minimum. Sunya continues to try to befriend Jamie, pulling pranks like a class clown. When she draws a picture of their teacher that looks like the devil and frames the classroom bully for it, Jamie is won over. They become friends, but soon they’re learning the Ten Commandments in class and Jamie sees that it’s a sin not to honor his parents. He ignores Sunya again to honor his father, but soon realizes that his father is breaking a commandment by hating Muslims. However, he’s already hurt Sunya’s feelings. When it’s parents’
night at Jamie’s school, he’
s very upset that his mother didn’t show up. His father attends and learns from Jamie’s teacher that Jamie has been writing stories about Rose as if she’s still alive. He’
s embarrassed and didn’t want to cause his family pain. That becomes worse when Sunya and her mother arrive, and Jamie’s father causes a scene, attacking them for being Muslims. At home, Jamie’s father yells at him and disappears for days in a drunken stupor.
Jamie and Jas enter a talent competition together. Jas impresses the judges and is asked to come back, but Jamie is dismissed. However, Jas says she won’t come back without her brother. As they leave, they see that their mother was in the audience. She tries to slip out before they see her, but Jamie catches up to her to thank her for the t-shirt. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and Jamie realizes she never sent him a birthday present. Jas did it to spare his feelings. He doesn’t tell her he knows, but he feels closer to his sister. The next day, Jamie finds his cat Roger dead at the side of the road and is crushed. His father climbs out of his drink to help his son, and they bury the cat. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Jamie’s father takes the ashes and throws them into the pond behind their house. Roger’s death made him deal with his own inability to let Rose go, and the whole family is able to better process their grief over Rose’s death. The book ends as Jamie returns to school and sees Sunya being harassed by the school bully. He protects her, and the two kids become friends again.
Annabel Pitcher is a British author of children’s books. She is the author of four novels geared towards younger readers. Both My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
and Ketchup Clouds
were nominated for multiple awards.