32. My sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, by Annabel Pitcher. This is a bittersweet story, told from the point of view from 10-year-old Jaime. Five years previous, his sister Rose was killed by a terrorist bomb, and incident that winds up tearing the family apart. His mother runs off, leaving his grieving father to pick up and try to make a fresh start elsewhere with Jaime and Jasmine, Jaime's sister and Rose's twin. Instead, the dad falls deeper into the bottle, leaving Jaime and Jasmine to fend for themselves and adapt to their new surroundings. Jaime is an endearing character, with a 10-year-old's wisdom that by turns is profound and amusing. Jasmine, too, is a great character; indeed, the book discussion group I attended thought it would be great to see a story, parallel to this one, that told things from her point of view. She's going through her own identity struggles at 15, the loss of her twin but she is a kind-hearted person who looks out for Jaime. Jaime, too, struggles at his new school, where he doesn't quite fit in with the other students. The only student who will talk to him is the feisty Sunya, but Jaime struggles with his feelings towards her. On one hand, she seems to understand his feelings of loss. But Jaime knows that if his father ever found out that he befriended a Muslim, he'd never understand. Some of the secondary characters are a bit stereotypical -- the uptight teacher, the bully-- but pain and loss, punctuated occasionally by Jaime's 10-year-old's humor, feels very real. My only major issue was the end, where Jaime is reconciling himself with his dad's faults, including the drinking. The attitude is basically that my dad drinks but that's OK. While you get the impression that the father is at least trying to cut back this bothered me. Alcoholism is not OK, and that written shrug of the shoulders bothered me. It's not acceptable to be a drunk, to be so tipsy that your ability to care for your family is called into question (and the dad does get that drunk). Period. Other than that, I enjoyed this story. I think older grade schoolers can enjoy it in a class, if a teacher or parent helped them. Teens- especially those who might have lived through a terror attack or know someone who did (which, really, is everyone) may appreciate this despite the use of a grade-school narrator. Adults and teens can enjoy the almost gallows humor at points.
Currently reading: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft (yes, still getting through this one, less than 100 pages left to go. This is good, a must for horror fans. But it is NOT fast reading.)