Wednesday 8 October 2014

The Year of the Rat by Claire Furniss

The Year of the Rat
The traffic light glows read through the rainy windscreen, blurred, clear, blurred again, as the wipers swish to and for. Below it, in front of us, is the hearse. I try not to look at it.
Published by Simon and Schuster in  April 2014
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 humour and heart-breaking 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.
This was one of the those books I was a little reluctant to read. There was huge hype surrounding it, and I’d found recently, that where there is hype, there is usually a book that can’t live up to it. However, this book surprisingly proved me wrong, as it is as good as everyone says it is.
From the very first sentence, you are caught up in the emotional runaway way train that is Pearl. She really isn’t coping well with the sudden death of her mother. Her death only cuts Pearl deeper, with the growing bond occurring between her step father and his first child, who Pearl blames completely for the death of her mother. She can’t even call Rose by her name – she can only refer to the baby as the rat. Pearl doesn’t want anything to do with Rose, and when she is left to look after it, it is quite traumatic, as a mother, to read. Yet, you are fully aware, that Pearl is suffering inside.
As the story progresses, and Pearl’s grandmother arrives, the story begins to lift a little. Pearl realises that her mother didn’t always tell her the truth; that perhaps she wasn’t as perfect as she made out. It is hard for Pearl to hear this, but it makes her stronger and able to deal with life without her mother. Although, always at the back of her mind, is the fact, that Dad, really isn’t her father and she must find the real one to make her life whole again.I loved the Britishness of the Year of the Rat; the way the grandmother arrived and quickly got on with things to make life easier. There wasn’t time for wallowing in pity anymore for Pearl.
At times this book was emotionally heart wrenching to read. The scene in the church after the funeral practically ripped my heart out. It was hard to read, as Pearl soldiered through the seven stages of grief  in order to accept her new sister and restart her life.
This book reminded me a lot of Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott, where the main character is waiting for the birth of her step sister, while her mother is kept alive by machines. So it was hard not to compare them, as it wasn’t so long ago that I read it. On reflection, I do think the The Year of the Rat, crossed the winning line first.
Definitely a poignant debut, that makes you realise how short life can be and how we should all make the most of every day we have, because each one is a gift.

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