My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

by Annabel Pitcher


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My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece.
Well, some of her does.
A collarbone, two ribs, a bit of skull, and a little toe.

To ten-year-old Jamie, his family has fallen apart because of the loss of someone he barely remembers: his sister Rose, who died five years ago in a terrorist bombing. To his father, life is impossible to make sense of when he lives in a world that could so cruelly take away a ten-year-old girl. To Rose's surviving fifteen year old twin, Jas, everyday she lives in Rose's ever present shadow, forever feeling the loss like a limb, but unable to be seen for herself alone.

Told with warmth and humor, this powerful novel is a sophisticated take on one family's struggle to make sense of the loss that's torn them apart... and their discovery of what it means to stay together.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316176897
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 682,815
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Annabel Pitcher is the award-winning author of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Yours Truly. She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English Literature. She lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, son, and dog.

Read an Excerpt

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

By Annabel Pitcher

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2013 Annabel Pitcher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-17690-3


My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does. Three of her fingers, her right elbow and her kneecap are buried in a graveyard in London. Mum and Dad had a big argument when the police found ten bits of her body. Mum wanted a grave she could visit. Dad wanted a cremation so he could sprinkle the ashes in the sea. That's what Jasmine told me, anyway. She remembers more than I do. I was only five when it happened. Jasmine was ten. She was Rose's twin. Still is, according to Mum and Dad. They dressed Jas the same for years after the funeral—flowery dresses, cardigans, those flat shoes with buckles that Rose loved. I reckon that's why Mum ran off with the man from the support group seventy-one days ago. When Jas cut off all her hair, dyed it pink and got her nose pierced on her fifteenth birthday, she didn't look like Rose anymore and my parents couldn't hack it.

They each got five bits. Mum put hers in a fancy white coffin beneath a fancy white headstone that says My Angel on it. Dad burned a collarbone, two ribs, a bit of skull and a little toe and put the ashes in a golden urn. So they both got their own way, but—surprise, surprise—it didn't make them happy. Mum says the graveyard's too depressing to visit. And every anniversary, Dad tries to sprinkle the ashes but changes his mind at the last minute. Something seems to happen right when Rose is about to be tipped into the sea. One year in Devon there were loads of these swarming silver fish that looked like they couldn't wait to eat my sister. And another year in Cornwall a seagull pooed on the urn just as Dad was about to open it. I started to laugh but Jas looked sad so I stopped.

We moved out of London to get away from it all. Dad knew someone who knew someone who called him up about a job at a building site in the Lake District. He hadn't worked in London for ages. There's a recession, which means the country has no money, so hardly anything's getting built. When he got the job in Ambleside, we sold our flat, rented a cottage and left Mum in London. I bet Jas five whole pounds that Mum would come to wave us off. She didn't make me pay when I lost. In the car Jas said Let's play I Spy, but she couldn't guess Something beginning with R, even though Roger was sitting right on my lap, purring as if he was giving her a clue.

It's so different here. There are massive mountains that are tall enough to poke God up the bum, hundreds of trees, and it's quiet. No people I said as we found the cottage down a twisty lane and I looked out the window for somebody to play with. No Muslims Dad corrected me, smiling for the first time that day. Me and Jas didn't smile back as we got out of the car.

Our cottage is the complete opposite of our flat in Finsbury Park. It's white not brown, big not small, old not new. Art's my favorite subject at school and, if I painted the buildings as people, I would turn the cottage into a crazy old lady, smiling with no teeth. The flat would be a serious soldier, all neat and squashed up in a row of identical men. Mum would love that. She's a teacher at an art college and I reckon she'd show every single one of her students if I sent her my pictures.

Even though Mum's in London, I was happy to leave the flat behind. My room was tiny but I wasn't allowed to swap with Rose 'cos she's dead and her stuff's sacred. That was the answer I always got whenever I asked if I could move. Rose's room is sacred, James. Don't go in there, James. It's sacred. I don't see what's sacred about a bunch of old dolls, a smelly pink blanket and a bald teddy. Didn't feel that sacred when I jumped up and down on Rose's bed one day after getting home from school. Jas made me stop but she promised not to tell.

When we'd got out of the car, we stood and looked at the cottage. The sun was setting, the mountains glowed orange and I saw our reflection in one of the windows—Dad, Jas, me holding Roger. For a millisecond I felt hopeful, like this really was the beginning of a brand-new life and everything was going to be okay from now on. Dad grabbed a suitcase and took the key out of his pocket and walked down the garden path. Jas grinned at me, stroked Roger, then followed. I put the cat down. He crawled straight into a bush, tail sticking out as he scrambled through the leaves. Come on Jas called, turning around at the porch door. She held out a hand as I ran to join her. We walked into the cottage together.

The uneven floorboards squeaked under my feet. Take off your shoes Jas said, because that's what Mum used to do. I pointed at a stain on the old red carpet. Take them off, anyway. I shrugged and did as I was told, then stretched up on my tiptoes and wrote my name in the dust on the light shade. JAMIE. Jas rubbed it off and walked down the hall into the kitchen, looking at the rusty oven and the cracked sink in the corner. Home sweet home Jas said, trying to smile. We heard a bag being opened in the living room and followed the noise.

Jas saw it first. I felt her arm go stiff. Do you want a cup of tea she said, her voice too high and her eyes on something in Dad's hand. He was crouching on the living room floor, his clothes thrown everywhere as if he'd emptied his suitcase in a rush. Where's the kettle she asked, trying to act normal. Dad didn't look up from the urn. He spat on it, polishing the gold with the end of his sleeve 'til it gleamed. Then he put my sister on the mantelpiece, which was cream and dusty and just like the one in the flat in London, and he whispered Welcome to your new home, sweetheart.

We went upstairs after that. Jas picked the biggest room. It has an old fireplace in the corner and a closet that she's filled with all her new black clothes. She's hung wind chimes from the beams on the ceiling and they tinkle if you blow on them. I prefer my room. My bed's in the middle with a small nightstand to one side and a lamp that doesn't work on top. The window overlooks the back garden, which has a creaky apple tree and a pond, and behind that are the mountains, stretching on forever. London was flat and the only green space near us was the park, which was ruined 'cos of the litter and graffiti and the gays, who Dad said looked for men in the bushes.

The best thing about my room is the windowsill, wide enough to sit on. Jas used a cushion to make it comfy. The first night we arrived, we curled up on it with a blanket, staring at the stars. I never saw them in London. All the lights from the buildings and cars made it too bright to see anything in the sky. Here the stars are really clear and Jas told me all about the constellations. She's into horoscopes and reads hers every morning on the Internet. It tells her exactly what's going to happen that day. Doesn't it spoil the surprise I asked in London when Jas pretended to be sick 'cos her horoscope said something about an unexpected event. That's the point she replied, getting back into bed and pulling the covers over her head.

Jas is a Gemini, the symbol of the twins, which is strange 'cos she's not a twin anymore. I'm a Leo and my symbol is the lion. On our first night in Ambleside, Jas knelt up on the cushion and pointed at the constellation out the window. It didn't look much like an animal, but Jas said that whenever I'm upset, I should think of the silver lion above my head and everything will be all right. I wanted to ask why she was saying this stuff when Dad had promised us a Fresh New Start, but I thought of the urn on the mantelpiece and I was too scared of the answer. Next morning, I found an empty vodka bottle in the garbage and I knew that life in the Lake District would be exactly the same as life in London.

That was two weeks ago. Since taking out the urn, Dad unpacked the old photo album and some of his clothes. The movers did the big stuff like the beds and the sofa, and me and Jas did everything else. The only boxes we haven't unpacked are the huge ones marked SACRED. They're in the cellar, covered with plastic bags to keep them dry in case there's a flood or something. When we closed the cellar door, Jas's eyes went all damp and smudgy. She said Doesn't it bother you and I said No and she said Why not and I said Rose is dead. Jas screwed up her face. Don't use that word, Jamie.

I don't see why not. Dead. Dead. Dead dead dead. Passed away is what Mum says. Gone to a better place is Dad's phrase. He never goes to church so I don't know why he says it. Unless the better place he's talking about is not Heaven but the inside of a coffin or a golden urn.

My therapist in London said I was In denial and still suffering from shock. She said It will hit you one day and then you will cry. Apparently I haven't since October 7 almost five years ago, which was when it happened. Last year, Mum and Dad sent me to that thin woman 'cos they thought it was weird I didn't cry about Rose. I wanted to ask if they'd cry about someone they couldn't remember, but I bit my tongue.

That's the thing no one seems to get. I don't remember Rose. Not really. I remember two girls on holiday playing Jump the Wave, but I don't know where we were or what Rose said or if she enjoyed the game. And I know my sisters were bridesmaids at a neighbor's wedding, but all I can picture is the bag of Skittles Mum gave me during the service. Even then I liked the red ones best and I held them in my hand until they stained my skin pink. But I can't remember what Rose wore or how she looked walking down the aisle or anything like that. After the funeral, when I asked Jas where Rose was, she pointed at the urn on the mantelpiece. How can a girl fit inside something so small I said, which made Jas cry. That's what she told me, anyway. I don't really remember.

One day for homework I had to describe someone special and I spent fifteen minutes writing a whole page on my favorite soccer player. Mum made me rip it up and write about Rose instead. I had nothing to say so Mum sat opposite me with her face all red and wet and told me exactly what to write. She smiled this teary smile and said When you were born, Rose pointed at your willy and asked if it was a worm and I said I'm not putting that in my English paper. Mum's smile disappeared. Tears dripped off her nose onto her chin and that made me feel bad so I wrote it down. A few days later, the teacher read my homework out loud in class and I got a gold star from her and teased by everyone else. Maggot Dick, they called me.


It's my birthday tomorrow and a few days after that, I start at Ambleside Church of England Primary School on September 1. Apparently it's tiny and they talk about God all the time even if they're just doing science, as they believe in Adam and Eve not evolution and Jurassic Park like everyone else in the country. Why do I have to go there I asked Dad when he told me. It's nearest he said and then turned up the TV. The school's about two miles from the cottage so Dad will have to drive. It's not like London here. There are no buses or trains if Dad's too drunk to go out. Jas said she'll walk with me if we can't get a lift, as her high school is about a mile farther on. She said At least we'll get thin and I looked at my arms and said Thin is a bad thing for boys. Jas doesn't need to lose any weight but she eats like a mouse and spends hours reading the backs of packages and looking at the calories. Today she made a cake for my birthday. She said it was a healthy one with margarine not butter and hardly any sugar so it will probably taste funny. Looks good though. We are having it tomorrow and I get to cut it 'cos it's my special day.

I checked the mail earlier. There were a few envelopes and a menu from the Curry House, which I hid so Dad wouldn't get angry. He started avoiding anything foreign after Rose died. Shops. Streets. He went all patriotic and hung the England flag in the living room and got a tattoo of it on his arm. Keep England English he began to say. Mum hated it and they used to argue, probably 'cos chicken curry was her favorite food and she wasn't allowed to eat it anymore.

There was nothing in the mail from Mum. No present. No card. But there's still tomorrow. She won't forget. Before we left London, I bought a We Are Moving House card and sent it to her. All I wrote inside was the cottage's address and the date that we were moving. I didn't know what else to put. She's living in Hampstead with that man from the support group. His name is Nigel and I met him at one of those memorial things in the center of London. Long straggly beard. Crooked nose. Smoked a pipe. He writes books about other people who have written books, which I think is pointless. His wife died on October 7 as well. Maybe Mum'll marry him. Maybe they'll have a baby and call it Rose and then they will forget all about me and Jas and Nigel's first wife. I wonder if he found any bits of her. There might be an urn on his mantelpiece and he might buy it flowers on their wedding anniversary. Mum would hate that.

Roger's just come into my room. He likes to curl up at night by the radiator, where it's warm. Roger loves it here. In London, he was always kept indoors 'cos of the traffic. Here, he can roam free and there are lots of animals to hunt in the back garden. On our third morning, I found something small and gray and dead on the doorstep. I think it was a mouse. I couldn't pick it up with my fingers so I got a piece of paper and pushed the mouse on with a stick and then I threw it in the garbage. But then I felt mean so I got it out of the garbage and put it under the hedge and covered it with grass. Roger meowed as if he couldn't believe what I was doing after all his hard work. I told him that dead things make me sick and he rubbed his orange body on my right shin so I knew he understood. It's true. Dead bodies freak me out. Sounds nasty to say this but if Rose had to die, I'm glad she was found in bits. It would be much worse if she was under the ground, stiff and cold, looking exactly like the girl in the photos.

I suppose my family was happy once. The pictures show lots of big smiles and small eyes, all crinkled up like someone's just told a really good joke. Dad spent hours staring at those photos in London. We had hundreds, all taken before October 7, and they were in a big jumble in six different boxes. Four years after Rose died, he decided to put them in order, with the oldest last and the most recent first. He bought ten of these really posh albums that are real leather and have gold writing on them, and he spent every evening for months not speaking to anyone, just drinking drinking drinking and gluing all the pictures in the right place. Only the more he drank the less he could stick straight, so the next day he would have to do half of them all over again. That's probably when Mum started having the Affair. That was a word I'd heard on TV and not one I expected my own dad to shout. It was a shock. I didn't guess, not even when Mum started going to the support group two times a week, then three times a week, then pretty much whenever she could.

Sometimes when I wake up, I forget that she's gone and then I remember and my heart drops like it does when you miss a step or trip over a curb. Everything comes rushing back and I can see what happened on Jas's birthday too clearly, as if my brain's one of those HD televisions that Mum said was a waste of money when I asked for one last Christmas.


Excerpted from My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher. Copyright © 2013 Annabel Pitcher. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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