Author: Clare Furniss
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback, 320 pages
Publication Date: 24th April 2014 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Synopsis: “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.” (Taken from Goodreads)
“He said maybe sometimes, when people lose someone they love, it’s like they die too. It’s like perhaps that’s the only way they can stay close to the person who’s gone. They stop living.” (p. 294)
The Year of the Rat was a beautifully written debut that follows a young girl named Pearl who loses her mum when she gives birth to her baby sister, Rose. The book is set over the year following Pearl’s mum’s death, and takes us on the a journey as Pearl comes to terms with what happened and try to mend her broken heart. It is a realistic portrayal of loss, with characters that pop off the page. Make sure you have tissues ready when you read this book.
The novel opens with Pearl and her dad at the funeral for her mother. Unable to let her mum go yet, Pearl ventures back into the church to find a ghost of her sitting at the back. I believe the quote I provided really captures the tone of this novel, Pearl is at a huge loss and in such an emotional state that she dies a little bit herself. She continuously pushes people away as she wants to be alone, thinking that no one could possibly understand how she is thinking. And worst of all, she blames her baby sister Rose for taking her mum away.
Pearl in her emotional state refers to Rose as ‘The Rat’ throughout the book. She hates her sister so much that she refuses to visit her at the hospital (her sister was born prematurely), but attempts to hide her hate for fear that her mum’s ghost would find out and stop showing up. Fearing everyone else will find out about this hate, Pearl shrinks into her shell and refuses the comfort of her best friend Molly, who’s at a loss as to how to help Pearl. Pearl basically pushes everyone away from her, especially her dad who she believed had forced her mum into having a second child. Not only has she lost her mum, but Pearl suddenly feels out of place in the family as her dad is not biologically her dad.
Pearl as a character was portrayed extremely realistically. She’s essentially a teenager, who suddenly finds life unbearable and pointless as she comes to terms with her loss. She doesn’t share her feelings with anyone, for fear that they would judge her for being heartless towards The Rat. At the same time, I could also understand where she was coming from. Some people may call her selfish for not wanting anything to do with the baby, but Pearl sees her sister as a bringer of death. Furniss develops Pearl’s thoughts extremely well, showing us that there’s more than one side to this hate. Pearl feels lost without her mum’s presence, and her only way to ground herself in this world again is to develop a deep enough emotion. And that emotion was hate.
This hate was also directed at her dad, who struggles with the loss of his wife as well as Rose’s fragility. A good portion of the start shows us that Rose remains in the hospital, fighting to be healthy, fighting to live. It’s a stark contrast to how easily Pearl’s mum gave up her life for her baby. A mother’s love really is limitless, because when Pearl asked her mum’s ghost if she’ll give up her life for Rose again, she said yes.
Once again, the quote above is important as this book asks you to suspend your belief every time Pearl encounters her mum’s ghost. They share physical interactions as well as verbal. I don’t think her mum is actually there, but it’s incorporated so well that you never really question it, or whether Pearl is descending into insanity (she’s not). It’s basically her way of coping with loss, as she never got the chance to say goodbye to her mum. Pearl’s imagination conjures up a very realistic figment of her mum, even with her bad smoking habit and swearing abilities. It’s Pearl’s way of keeping her mum’s memory close to her, which is why when she finally lets go of her hate and comes to terms with her loss, Pearl is hit hard with the fact that her mum is really gone.
The best thing about this book is its ability to draw you in with its characters. Pearl is sarcastic and has a very dry sense of humour that makes you smile every now and then. She becomes reckless, and a recluse, which I found to be a very realistic portrayal of loss. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the story as much if she had accepted death as easily, or even if she embraced the thought of company at her darkest time. Pearl is honestly a brilliant character, and she definitely grows up over the year. There’s a lot of bumps along the way, but there is definitely character development in this novel.
I loved this book. It was just so raw and honest, I wish I could read it for the first time again. This book will make you cry, it’s an emotional rollercoaster ride but at its ending, you’ll find yourself understanding the concept of loss a lot better. Highly recommended!
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.