The Year of the Rat

Clare Furniss has written about an insufferable heroine, someone you would cheerfully throttle, were she not a fictional character. 16-year-old Pearl has so much, and you just want her to stop wallowing in self pity. Because the ‘only’ thing she doesn’t have is the mother who died giving birth to Pearl’s baby sister, Rose.

Now, I’m not belittling the enormously harrowing experience of losing your mother. It’s just that so many people, fictional or otherwise, lose parents and suffer some other dreadful problem as well, and come out of it fighting. Pearl wallows, and she does it well.

She has a lovely and loving stepdad, a rather rat-like new baby sister, a marvellous best friend, understanding teachers at school, a sweet new neighbour, as well as that neighbour’s rather fanciable grandson. Add to that successful GCSE results and an interesting grandmother, and she has everything to try and pull herself together for!

Pearl renames Rose The Rat, and has occasional encounters with her dead mum (it’s never quite clear how this is done; perhaps it’s all in Pearl’s head) where they discuss her behaviour.

As an adult reader I could see where Pearl ‘went wrong,’ but I’m not sure how obvious this would be to younger readers. Will they see her childish reluctance to take responsibility for her life as natural and reasonable? I guess it depends on which side you are on. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, and once you’ve started, it can seem impossible to stop.

The Year of the Rat is a fantastic read, about grief and how to deal with it (not like Pearl!), and should help readers to see that there can be life after death. And not to forget there are others in that life, also suffering. The pram-buying scene is devastating in its unintentional horror.

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