This is the first book in quite a while that made me properly cry, by which I mean I was in public desperately trying to hide my face and surreptitiously wipe away tears. This alone is enough for a five-star rating, and yet there is so much more to talk about.
This book is about a broken family five years after their daughter and sister Rose was killed, narrated by Rose’s now ten year-old brother Jamie. Jamie’s family each have their own reactions to Rose’s death. His mother ran away, his father drinks, his sister doesn’t eat and Jamie feels out of place for not even remembering Rose, let alone grieving for her. Jamie’s sadness is mostly over his lack of a happy family life. Not only has he not heard from his mother in months, but his father neglects him and, for good reason, both Jamie and Jasmine think their parents hate them. This grim family scenario is made even worse by their father’s morbid obsession with Rose’s ashes. She is always present on the mantelpiece and, on special occasions, even ‘gives’ people gifts and is offered food.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was its fascinating and nuanced characters. Jamie’s father, for example, is awful. He is so lost in his grief that he barely notices that he has two other children who need him. Not only this, but the racist ideas he puts in Jamie’s head and the way in which he abuses any Muslims he comes across is sickening, though sadly realistic. And yet his grief is understandable. What could be worse than the death of one’s child? One can even almost sympathise with his virulent Islamophobia (mind that it is only almost).
Jamie’s relationship with his friend Sunya is also wonderful. She is a dazzling figure, brought to life by how enchanted Jamie is with her. Wise beyond her years, one could almost forget that she’s a ten year-old, but Annabel Pitcher does not, showing us her vulnerabilities as the novel continues. Their relationship is beautifully-written and undergoes wonderful development.
As I approached the ending of this book, I couldn’t work out how on earth any sort of satisfying denouement could be created. It would seem awfully trite for everything to be magically fixed, and yet very bleak if nothing was and it didn’t seem possible for the relevant developments to be realistically depicted in time. I needn’t have worried, however, as it was incredibly moving and led to the aforementioned public crying. This was a very mature book, and not sentimental either when it easily could have been. Although not everything is fixed in the end, there is hope of a better future, despite grief and loss and further difficulties. All in all, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone.