I frequently get invitations from publishers to be part of something known as a blog tour. This is a chain of posts around a selection of blogs promoting a new book, or asking the author questions. I'm not sure I've often said 'yes' before either, because often the schedule is a bit tight for me to read the book and prepare for it, or I might just not be in the mood to have to read a book to order.
Today I have made an exception and of course this is nothing to do with the fact that David Tennant reads the audio version of a young adult book My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher.
Or that Orion, the publishers asked if I would be interested in having a short audio excerpt from that reading included in today's post in celebration of the paperback edition now being published under their new young adult / crossover imprint Indigo.
No that's nothing to do with it what-so-ever...
Right, having ascertained that I might actually stoop to new and previously unplumbed depths in order to hear David Tennant's voice on here legitimately, I then realised that, in order for the planets to align, first off I'd actually need to be interested in the book, secondly a copy would need to arrive, thirdly I'd need to make time to read it sharpish and most importantly I'd have to enjoy it a lot.
In fact the minute I read the blurb I knew I had to read the book, David Tennant or no David, who incidentally loved the book so much 'he had to do the audio.'
Ten year old Jamie hasn't cried since it happened. He knows he should have - Jasmine cried, Mum cried, Dad still cries. Roger didn't, but then he is just a cat and didn't know Rose that well really.
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...'
Well I've lost a sibling too, and I recognise the challenges ready and waiting to ambush you throughout your life, so yes I'm very interested in the book by now, and to be honest who cares if the David Tennant thing doesn't happen because I can't load the file or something, I'll write about this one anyway.
And my chest went tight and my eyes welled up countless times as I sat alongside young Jamie and listened and watched as the chaos, in the aftermath of the massive tragedy that had killed his older sister Rose, unravelled his family, shattering it into fragments, and all narrated through Jamie's incredibly beguiling and natural children's voice.
Jamie had been five, his twin sisters Rose and Jasmine ten, when the tragedy happened, and in the intervening five years his parents have grieved separately, out of synch and very differently, eventually leading to the breakdown of the marriage, and a move from London to a cottage in the Lake District for Jamie, Jasmine, his Dad and Roger the cat. Whilst the remaining family are all five years older, Rose is forever ten, 'all dead and perfect' her ashes kept by Dad in an urn on the mantelpiece, and her possessions preserved and packed carefully in boxes marked SACRED for the move to Ambleside.
And whilst time may have moved on, heavens above, it hasn't helped one little bit. I often say to people if time is of any help at all it's not the actual passage of time that makes any difference but what you do in that time ... and for Family Matthews life seems worse than ever.
Mum has gone off with someone from her support group, Dad is drinking heavily and barely functioning, Jasmine, now fifteen is taking on the lion's share of the caring but also searching hard for her twin-less identity, and Jamie, starting at a new school, must find his own way as a fully-fledged but seemingly invisible mourner through a morass not of his own making, and most certainly not within the remit of his understanding.
But Jamie, like all children is very capable of feeling and sensing, he is earnest, wants to be a hero and tries desperately to be 'normal' whilst we, looking in, can see that all is very far from normal, and Annabel Pitcher captures all that perfectly in the thought and language of Jamie. 'The dog in my chest had a droopy sad tale...' says Jamie, and somehow you immediately know exactly how this heart-melting boy, who you will want to hug (and he'll squirm out of it like ten year old boys do) is feeling.
But Jamie also has special powers in the shape of magical thinking and a vivid imagination on his side, to say nothing of his precious Spiderman tee shirt as he explores countless ways to try and mend himself and his broken family. It occurred to me as I read that Jamie had clung onto his capacity for magical thinking much longer than a child usually would, and little wonder. A child may grieve a loss at a young age many times over as they grow into adulthood, Jamie had unwittingly, but very sensibly, hung on to the very thing that could help him most.
Phyllis Silverman author of A Parents Guide to Raising Grieving Children, suggests that in these situations you need a 'road map for a long journey', and that whilst children may not look 'ashen and visibly shaken...inside they are a mess', and thanks to books like Phyllis's we know a great deal more than we ever did about how children react to loss, and what they may need in the aftermath. One thing we know for sure is that for the best outcomes they need reassurance that as a family they will make it through the tragedy, and thus gain resilience to take into adulthood with them, and whilst Jamie might not have the perfect set up, and the road map might be upsidedown, he does have his sister Jasmine. And though Jasmine is in turmoil too, grieving the loss of her twin and much more, she holds it together for Jamie and all mediated through Jamie's eyes, so I was delighted to find a short story at the end of the book, where Jasmine had her say too which offered some completeness...because I had been wondering.
As always I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but Annabel Pitcher draws in several other other themes beyond grief including racial prejudice (which will become clear when you learn how Rose has died) bullying at school and yes it will all be gut-wrenching and heartbreaking along the way, and with a few twists that subvert expectations too. Annabel is not afraid to confront everyone's grief and their actions head on, including those of Jamie's mum, and in a way that will definitely require hankies, as she explores the routes that grief can insist on taking on that road map, and within a family who have all seemingly lost the same person, but may have all actually lost someone quite different, and had to deal with it in their own way, no matter how painful.
So there you have it, lured in by the promise of David Tennant reading us an extract, and now I am so glad that I looked at this a little more closely and agreed to read My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, it is an exceptional book, confident and accomplished writing tackling a really important subject but in a unique way, and I for one will look forward to reading anything else that Annabel Pitcher writes.
And if you've read this far, here's your reward... Chapter One, some beautiful music and to make David speak for you you may have to right click on this and 'Open in New Tab'
and the the tour rolls on around the blogs through the rest of the week so do visit them to hear more thoughts on this book and listen to further extracts ..
PS News Flash :: Congratulations to Annabel Pitcher because My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece has today been shortlisted for the Red House Children's Book Award chosen and voted for entirely by children.