Review of “The Year of the Rat” by Clare Furniss

Profound, yet upbeat.

Year of the rat

Shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2015 (editor Jane Griffiths)

Good Reads 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 mum 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.

Mum, though… Mum’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 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 mum is no longer around.

So what did I think?

Well, this is book about bereavement and grief and pulling yourself through the sludge of a close family member’s death, so it may sound a little heavy. But ignore that, because this is a very humorous, witty and uplifting book in so many ways.

The first thing I should mention is that it’s very British, like a Richard Curtis rom-com. You now, with booze and buses and bunking off. It starts with Pearl’s Mum’s funeral on a rainy day. I was amazed (envious) at how much Clare Furniss packed into the first chapter. Pretty much instantly we feel the gulf that’s been created between Pearl and her dad. And the aching frustration of Pearl’s inability to deal with the changes in her life, and the emotions that go with it, continue through the story. We sympathise with her grief, yet will her to make progress with her situation, just as we would with a real life friend. So Clare’s writing is very convincing. Real and compelling. There’s one scene which made my blood pressure go through the roof, such was my reaction to Pearl’s behaviour-that’s how much she gets under your skin!

I like the way the dads are both portrayed. That is, in a positive, non-stereotypical-for-a-book-dad-character way. About time! I like the way Pearl’s relationship with her best friend goes up and down. I like the way Clare paints a vivid picture; and it’s just so easy to read.

The story makes you think that we never truly know people in the way we think we do. And that the way we try to manipulate others’ perceptions of ourselves can be badly done for the best of reasons. See: profound!

All-in-all it’s a brilliant book that will make you laugh and make you cry. I think the idea that “the world may tip at any moment” will resonate with any young person whose family life has been disrupted, and in my opinion the book has a broad appeal age-group wise.

Can’t wait for the next book by Clare Furniss!

Pippa Wilson

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