Monday, August 22, 2016

My Sister Lives... & A Patch of Blue

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher

I have an increasingly long list of books that people have recommended.  Every now and then I find one at the library and pick it up for the bargain price of 50c.   I had thought it was a book for adults, and so was surprised when I noticed my son reading another book by the same author.   Turns out I was wrong – Pitcher writes books for children and youth.

Narrated by Jamie, a 10-year old in the UK, his family was completely turned upside down five years ago.   Slowly revealing the events, Pitcher has drawn a realistic picture of a family whose life has been marred by tragedy - a terrorist attack in which Jamie’s sister died.   Dad is unable to move on and is stuck in a pattern of drinking and hating all Muslims for he holds them all responsible; Mum has chosen to move on and away from them all; so Jamie is forced to move to the countryside with his Dad and other sister (age 15).  There is a desperation to this story, the simplicity with which it is told through the eyes of a 10-year-old is somehow more devastating than through the eyes of an adult.   What Jamie struggles with is that he has no real memory of his sister.   In a house that is clouded with grief and that revolves around Rose (who ashes are on the mantelpiece), he is unable to participate in it.    

Jamie has spent his childhood being bullied, and his new school turns out to be no different.  Except that here he finds a friend, Sunya, a girl who wears a headscarf and who is as much an outsider as he is.   A friendship develops, yet all the while he knows his dad would hate it.   None of my children have yet read this one, Mr 13 is not currently interested and I think Miss 11 could wait a bit longer.

For me this book had echoes of A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, which I read for high school English.  A poor white 18 year old-girl, Selina, is the child of a prostitute, abused by her family, surrounded by prejudice, and was blinded at age five by an acid attack. She threads beads to earn money. On the very odd occasion she gets out of the house, she meets a friendly, polite man Gordon, and they strike up a close friendship. Gordon comes to realise the despair and degradation of Selina’s life. Selina finds herself with a friend for the first time. Gordon wants to help Selina, and she needs him to rescue her from her mother’s plans to include her in prostitution. Yet something is not quite right, which is slowly revealed, and as the setting could be the 1950s/60s in America, we see that racial tension might have something to do with it.

In re-reading it recently, I am reminded (with some relief), that children and teens do not fully understand what they read. I don’t remember any of the depths of despair that this story had. Even if I theoretically realised the awful life that Selina had, I did not comprehend it.   As my children get older I am reminded of more books and movies I read and enjoyed at their age, but never really grasped.   That's usually a good thing!  Understanding comes with age and experience.  

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