It's always pleasing when a book you've loved - one that's impressed or moved you - gets the recognition it deserves, and that's the case with Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece which has been shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards Children's Book of the Year and the Dylan Thomas Prize.
I can't imagine you could read this novel and remain dry-eyed or fail to clutch it tightly, desperate to know what happens next but almost unable to turn the page to find out in case it's not what you'd hoped it would be. It's the story of a family which is falling apart through grief, but should you think it sounds like a torturous read, it's has such warmth and humour and natural, unforced honesty about it that although you'll have your hanky at the ready, it's a heartening book, and one which shows that 'happy endings' can come in many different guises.
Ten-year-old Jamie has moved up to the Lake District with his father and his sister, Jasmine. In London five years earlier, Jasmine's twin, Rose, was killed by a terrorist bomb; unable to live with their loss, the children's father has taken to drink while their mother has gone off with a man she met at a support group. While the teenage Jas copes with her grief and the break-up by being nonconformist, Jamie can barely remember Rose, and though he hopes that the fresh start in the north will somehow bring the family together again, he resents the way that Rose - whose ashes are in an urn on the mantelpiece and whose possessions are in a box marked "sacred" - seems to dominate everything: she's "all dead and perfect", and neither parent seems to have time or attention for their living children.
Settling into a new school is never easy, and Jamie gets more than his share of being the picked on outsider, but he makes a friend in classmate Sunya, and with her - mostly - on his side, his cat Roger, and Jas doing what she can for him in her spiky, big sister way, Jamie gets by. Life's far from perfect, though, and when he sees an advert for a television talent show, he thinks that might just be the way to put his broken family back together and make things almost as they were before.
Does his plan work? You'll have to read the book to find out, but you can get a taste of it by clicking on the box below (you may need to right-click and open a new tab) to hear an excerpt from David Tennant, whose reading has been shortlisted for Audiobook of the Year; meanwhile, there's an earlier segment on Lynne's blog, another one coming up tomorrow on Jackie's, and more at Fierce Fiction on Thursday.
Full marks to former teacher Annabel Pitcher for this her first novel, and in particular for the courageous Jamie whose voice carries the book so well.