I’m not going to lie. I downloaded this audio book because David Tennant is the narrator. I had been looking for a quick audio book, and started searching some of my favorite actors and actresses to see which ones they might have read, and that is how I found this book. Once I read a few reviews, I decided to give it a shot. So very glad I did.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the story of Jamie Matthews. Jamie lives in London with his shattered family because, as the title says, his sister Rose’s ashes are in an urn on the mantelpiece. Well, most of them. After her death in a terrorist attack similar to the 7/7 bombings, Rose’s parents couldn’t agree about what to do with her remains. Five years later when Jamie is ten, Jamie’s mother leaves his father for a man in her grief support group. Jamie’s father moves Jamie and Rose’s twin sister Jas up to the Lake Country for a fresh start. As he starts drinking heavily and neglecting the children, Jamie begins to make friends with Sunya, a girl at school. The only problem is that she’s Muslim, and as Jamie’s father always says, Muslims killed his sister.
This book is absolutely charming, even though Jamie has such a hard time of it, mainly because of the humor with which Annabel Pitcher imbues Jamie. As maddening as almost all of the adults are, and as sad as Jamie’s experiences are, in Pitcher’s hands, the story is never maudlin or pathetic because Jamie isn’t. He copes with his absentee parents and struggles with his feelings about his father’s prejudice against Muslims with a sense of humor that sparkles. For example:
“I stared up at the sky and raised my middle finger, just in case God was watching. I don’t like being spied on.”
The characters, especially the children (but sadly, also the horrible adults) leap off the page with a delightful realism that might remind some of J. K. Rowling. I think the novel is a middle grade novel, as Jamie is ten, but truthfully, anyone of any age might enjoy it. Touching on grief, family strife, bullying, friendship, and racism, in less skilled hands it would be too much, or at the very least, it wouldn’t work. But Pitcher handles it beautifully. Moreover, the message about racism and prejudice is particularly important in the current political climate. I wish I knew more kids I could recommend the book to, but recommending it to you will have to do. Annabel Pitcher will make Jamie Matthews your new hero.
It probably goes without saying that David Tennant was an excellent narrator. I can always tell I am enjoying an audio book when I actually volunteer to do the dishes more than my fair share because I want to listen. His reading only underscores the book’s charm and humor.
It’s one of the best ones of the year for me.
Jamie and his family move from London to Ambleside in Cumbria in the Lake District, so I’ll count it as a book set in Cumbria.