Published by Simon and Schuster Australia on April 24, 2014
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.