The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss Review: A journey of grief and loss

June 17, 2014 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 4 stars, Books, Reviews

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss Review: A journey of grief and lossThe Year of The Rat by Clare Furniss
Published by Simon and Schuster Australia on April 24, 2014
Source: Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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 I was 16, I lost a friend who was a few years younger than me, and I was depressed and angry at the world for letting that happen to someone so young. Things started feeling empty for me and I found it difficult to experience any joy in my life, simply because I couldn’t make sense of what happened to my young friend.

That’s why The Year of The Rat really struck a chord with me, because Pearl’s own experience in losing her mother was so realistic. What she feels and the way she just can’t comes to terms with it was similar to how I felt, and it really shone its realistic portrayal of depression upon death.

Pearl has recently lost her mum who passed away upon childbirth of Pearl’s baby sister, who she calls The Rat. She blames the baby for the death of her mother. As she tries to make sense of it all, she becomes an outer shell of her former self and sees hallucinations of the ghost of her mother who guides her through her journey of grief.

I look tired; bruised under the eyes, pale, thin. But still the same person I was before Mum died. It doesn’t seem right. I should look different; changed completely. 

I haven’t read a book that explores this type of grief and loss of a close family member in such detail. Seeing Pearl trying to make sense of her loss was a heartrending experience. She pushes everyone away, nothing matters anymore, and she becomes sad, bitter and angry. She directs this hate at her sister, her dad and her best friend, because she can no longer feel anything. Although she’s an intentionally unlikable character, how she copes with grief and loss was heart breaking, as she leaves her baby sister alone, lashes out at her best friend and abandons her father when he needs her most.

That is what grief makes you do though, by dealing in whatever way you can. The depression and emptiness that Pearl experiences is realistic, raw and heartbreaking, as you hear the angst and sadness in her voice and her actions. Somehow through the year covered in the book, Pearl finds a way through her grief, finds love, meets her real father and finally says goodbye to her mother. Although the pain never really subsided, I was glad there was a resolution for Pearl, who was finally able to move on with her life.

I wish so much that I could explain to her; that I could get everything that’s inside me out, to share it, be rid of it. But I can’t. I can’t even find the words for what’s inside me. 

One thing I didn’t particularly like though, was that the romance seemed kind of forced. Finn is the next door neighbour’s grandson, who sees Pearl in all her darkest moments. Although it was touching how they got together, I wasn’t sure where the attraction for Finn came from, especially based on how Pearl treated him.

I liked the refreshing and relateable way the book was written, although it deals with some fairly heavy topics, the writing made it easier to digest. The emotional pain and raw feeling felt through the writing came out loud and clear, and it will reduce you to tears.


The Year of The Rat is a confronting, heart breaking and emotional experience about dealing with death. Throughout the book, your heart will go out to Pearl as she tries to make sense of losing her mother and pushes everyone away. Reading about her actions and the aching dull pain will frustrate you and reduce you to tears. Thankfully her journey is a coming of age one where she will finally learn to live and love again, and it was a worthwhile experience. I think readers everywhere will have something to take away from Pearl’s relateable experience about grief and sadness.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for sending me this book for review, in exchange for an honest review.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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54 responses to “The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss Review: A journey of grief and loss

  1. Lovely review Jeann, I adore books that focus on the subject of grief, I think they are always valuable. This one sounds wonderful. I must look out for it when I'm next at the book store.

  2. I know right? A shame it doesn't really go with the story but you know, it still attracts the eye. It's so easy to judge what we don't understand. Thank you lovely!

  3. Thank you Faye, I love how you describe seeing my emotions in my reviews 🙂 Very deep lol! I hope you will get a chance to read it Faye! It needs to be experienced.

  4. I wish the rest of the world got to experience Aussie YA, not just the super popular ones. IT is pretty awesome, and it was a really relatable and aching journey that Pearl goes through. Thank you Rashika! x

  5. Yes I hope they bring some of our awesome Aussie YA titles abroad because we are lucky to get some great books and authors here. Yeah, pretty much every YA book has a romance, that we get surprised when it doesn't. Thank you Zoe, I hope you keep an eye on this one to see if it comes out!

  6. Excellent, hopefully it will come out outside of Australia soon! I've read too many heavy books atm and I'm reading The Murder of Crows atm and I am loving the change in pace.

  7. Thank you, it was a really different type of story, definitely bitter and sad. That sounds so sad, it kind of reminds you of the realities of life and that it isn't forever right. No problems!

  8. I usually don't read a lot of "sad" books because I'm terrible at dealing with confronting, heartbreaking grief. I'm really sorry to hear you had to through such a loss, but I'm glad to hear that this book was able to speak to you! It's nice to hear that the book was also about a journey of self-discovery and to learn to live and love again (: Thanks for the lovely review, Jeann!
    Cyn @ Book Munchies recently posted…Romantic Thursday Review: The Distance Between Us by Kasie WestMy Profile

  9. Well, this sounds like a very different kind of contemporary read! Thank you for bringing this book into my attention, Jeann. I would have probably have skipped this one otherwise.

    I'm sorry to hear you had to live through loss at a young age, but it is also a great way to grow an appreciate the life we are given.

    Fantastic review and big hugs to you!
    Pili recently posted…Ink & Batter #7: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins!!My Profile

  10. I am really happy that you enjoyed this one because I just one a copy. I really hope that I end up loving it too, it sounds like a heart-breaking read. Sorry to hear about your friend, glad this was something you could relate to and understand. I lost my aunt suddenly last year and we had to switch off life support when she was pronounced brain dead. I hated watching my little cousin have to have the doctor wrap my aunts arms around her just so she could have one last hug with her, it broke my heart. I feel like this book will have me absolutely sobbing, but I think I am prepared for all of those feels. I'm glad there is resolution to the her story. I am so ready for this one! Thanks for the amazing review.
    Reviews from a Bookw recently posted…Films for Thoughts on Thursday: MaleficentMy Profile

  11. It's hard to lose someone at any age, but with all the confusion and uncertainty and, um, hormones that are going on as a teenager, it can be especially devastating. This sounds like an emotional read, which I'm not in the place for at the moment, but I'll need to keep an eye on this one for a future read. Thanks for the lovely review, Jeann!
    Wendy Darling recently posted…YA Authors Read Snarky ReviewsMy Profile

  12. I love a book that doesn't gloss over certain topics and that can move me at the same time. I haven't heard of this particular author but I'm tempted to one-click. Every now and again, I need something heavy which totally makes me appreciate my urban fantasy books all the more! 😉 As always Jeann, stunning review. 😉
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  13. I've heard so many great things about this one from the rest of the crew down in Australia, so I'm really glad you enjoyed it as well Jeann! Pearl sounds like a great heroine – flawed, but in a realistic way. I'm glad you found her to be relatable! 😀

    As for the romance, it's a shame you felt it was forced; but I guess that's not surprising considering the unspoken law of "every YA book must have a romance." 😐 Anyhow, I'm glad this didn't impact your enjoyment!

    I always love a good emotional story, and this sounds like just the one! Definitely going to have to give this a try! Thanks for sharing, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3
    Zoe @ The Infinite T recently posted…Dangerous GirlsMy Profile

  14. This was such a beautiful review, Jeann. I really felt your emotions all over the place, and I think the fact that your intense feelings were seen through your words is only a testament how this book has truly and effectively affected you. I really want to read this one soon and I hope I get the chance to snag a copy. I'll probably special order it through my bookstore if need be, because books like this that talk about grief in such a realistic and raw way deserve to be read.
    Faye @ The Social Po recently posted…ARC Review: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie ConnorMy Profile

  15. Oh, this cover? J'adore! I'm so sorry to hear that such a horrible thing has happened to you *HUGS* "That is what grief makes you do though, by dealing in whatever way you can." This is so true. We can judge all we want, but the fact is that everyone is different and you can't expect everyone to just get over such a thing. I'm so glad to hear that Pearl makes peace with this situation though. As much as you can, at least. Gorgeous review, hon!
    Siiri recently posted…Top Ten Books On My Summer TBRMy Profile

  16. I've heard a lot of good things about this book and I'm looking forward to finally reading it myself. It's a shame that the romance felt a little random, but it sounds like a small flaw in an otherwise raw and emotional book. I'm glad that it worked for you, Jeann. Lovely review!
    Sam @ Realm of Ficti recently posted…Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR ListMy Profile

  17. I wish I could move to Australia just so I'd have access to all these wonderful books.

    This just sounds like something I would love. I am not always up for sad books (more like hardly ever) but this just seems like a book that would resonate with me. I really am curious about Pearl's journey and I want to see how she makes it through and if there is an HEA of sorts. :/

    Fantastic review as always, Jeann!! 🙂
    Rashika recently posted…ARC Review: How to Meet Boys by Catherine ClarkMy Profile

  18. I was right. I remember saying in my review for this book that just because it didn't impress or appeal to me because Pearl felt too young for me, I knew it'd be a winner for other people and it's proven to be too. I'll probably be one of those odd people that didn't like, but I glad you did. I glad you could connect this story much better than I could too. Wonderful review, honest and provoking 🙂
    Amanda @ Book Badger recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #19 – Books On My Summer 2014 TBRMy Profile

  19. I love it when books are able to speak to us emotionally, even if it's through a tragic situation like the loss of a friend, in your case. A lot of the books I read these days don't have that kind of emotional connection, which makes them so boring, and whatever message they try to convey is completely lost by me. But I'm glad that this wasn't the case here. I have to admit though that I wasn't all that interested in this because the title was kind of weird, but you've definitely piqued my interest now!

    I'm reading all the quotes you chose and I can see what you mean by the emotional depth of this book. What I love is that even though Pearl's character is such that she's intentionally unlikable, the author was still able to make you sympathize with her. That's one skill a lot of authors lack — a lot of times, unlikable characters remain unlikable because you can't relate to them.

    Bleargh about the romance, though. I wish I could say that not all contemporaries need romance in them, but that's just me being cynical. 😛 Also, I don't think the heavy stuff in this book would bother me much; I tend to prefer deeper and darker reads than those fluffy and happy ones, because those are really so generic. Anyway, fabulous review! I hope I get the chance to check it out because I'm all for getting on the rollercoaster of emotions ride in books, that's just how I like it. 🙂

    P.S. I just stumbled across your blog and it's CUTE! I'm loving your header especially — the cloud is adorable! Looking forward to reading more of your content soon. 😀
    Megan (Adrift on Vul recently posted…Author Alert: Corinne Duyvis (Otherbound) + GiveawayMy Profile

    • Absolutely, I think what made me appreciate this book was the unlikable heroine, which kind of made it more realistic and didn't gloss over things you know? It definitely sounds like this book will be up your alley. Thanks for your lovely comment and discovering my blog!

  20. I've seen nothing but positive reviews for this. And since it seems similar in tone to something I'm writing, I think I might pick it up as research (and because it sounds awesome, of course!). I'm sorry about what happened to your friend – it's not fair at all. Lovely review <3

  21. I don't think I could prepare myself to ever get my heart broken from a book, even if it has happened quite so many times. I generally don't like depressing books though. Maybe because I don't understand grief like these characters do. And I don't think I'd like the romance from what I gather from review. I'm glad this has a good resolution though
    Francine Soleil recently posted…Review: Shield of Winter by Nalini SinghMy Profile

  22. I'm so glad you liked this one too! x) I agree about the romance, though….I almost felt like it was the only odd thing, you know "spot-the-thing-that-shouldn't-be-there" sort of feel happening. It just never flowed and I don't think it progressed enough to warrant being there. BUT EVERYTHING ELSE WAS GOLD. I was SO emotionally involved in this book. *sniffles*
    Cait @ Notebook Sist recently posted…Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (It didn’t make me cry? What is this?)My Profile

    • It was very different to other books I've read so I enjoyed it 🙂 The romance was so weird and out of place! I know, I didn't end up crying but sounds like you had a few tears come your way!

  23. It's interesting, because personally, I found that the book didn't dwell as much on the grief. The tone of the book (for me) didn't seem so much sorrowful as bitter. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it was dark rather than "sad" per se.

    But yes! That romance! It was so random. It kind of felt like it was just thrown in there haha
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