on 1st May 2014
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Grappling with grief is hard enough without repeat visits from the deceased. Pearl deals with death, life, and family in this haunting, humorous, and poignant debut.
The world can tip at any moment…a fact that fifteen-year-old Pearl is all too aware of when her mom dies after giving birth to her baby sister, Rose.
Rose, who looks exactly like a baby rat, all pink, wrinkled, and writhing. This little Rat has destroyed everything, even ruined the wonderful relationship that Pearl had with her stepfather, the Rat’s biological father.
Mom, though…Mom’s dead but she can’t seem to leave. She keeps visiting Pearl. Smoking, cursing, guiding.
Told across the year following her mother’s death, Pearl’s story is full of bittersweet humor and heartbreaking honesty about how you deal with grief that cuts you to the bone, as she tries not only to come to terms with losing her mother, but also the fact that her sister—The Rat—is a constant reminder of why her mom is no longer around.
When Pearl’s mother unexpectedly dies, fifteen year old Pearl blames her little sister. If it wasn’t for the baby, Pearl feels her mother would still be alive. It doesn’t help that baby Rose (who was born two months premature) looks more like a pink rat than the soft, dimpled cheeked baby with golden curls Pearl was imagining joining her family.
Pearl feels like she’s lost everything when her mum died. Her dad spends most of his time at the hospital with The Rat and her friends just don’t understand. If only her mum was still around…. and then she is. Pearl can see, touch and have conversations with her mother who appears just as she did when she was alive – complete with cigarette in hand and baseball boots. The Year of The Rat follows Pearl’s first year without her mother and how dealing with loss, the past and how life changes even when you might not want it too.
This novel is a story whose strength is its characters. Pearl may not be the most likeable teen but her pain and grief is palpable. She is believable in her anger and frustration at having to navigate the world without her beloved mother and with the addition of a baby she blames her dad for. Her dad who she isn’t sure she can trust because despite having been there since she was an infant, he isn’t biologically family. Pearl can’t hide from her problems especially when everywhere she looks she sees The Rat – and the evidence that her mother is never coming back. Even when she gets to see and talk to her mum, Pearl evades her real feelings and glosses over her true emotions. She distances herself from her best friend, Molly, because she feels like Molly has replaced her with her new boyfriend, Ravi. Pearl’s actions are relatable. At times I may have wanted to scream at her for her irresponsibility but I consider her to be realistic and they way she acts is believable and authentic. Her withdrawal from life is sad to read but her journey back is a beautiful read.
That said, this book isn’t all just angry teen angst. There’s a lovely relationship with the boy next door, realization that family is more than just biology and a friendship which endures the lost of parents. I loved reading Pearl’s interactions with Finn. It seemed like he was always in the wrong place at the time and managed to see Pearl at her absolute worst. Molly was trying to be there for Pearl but in a time like this when no one knows just how to act is pushed aside. And I have to admit I loved Pearl’s dad. He’s always been there for her and in this tough time, she blames him and is so angry that she can’t help him. It’s an interesting father/daughter dynamic especially when Pearl decides to add another factor into the equation.
Clare Furniss’ debut novel, The Year of The Rat is beautiful read dealing with family relationships, loss and change and one I highly recommend. I’ve seen the hashtag #ThatRatBook on twitter and I can understand why so many people are talking about this book. It’s heartfelt and touching with characters I connected with.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.