The Amazon Vine Programme sent me a copy of The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss in exchange for my honest opinion.
I put off reading this book for quite a while. There is a trend in YA/Teen fiction to churn out novels about bereaved teenagers. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. I have read a few in my time. One or two have struck me as being wonderful, uplifting, profound reads, others were just jumping on the misery bandwagon. I wasn’t sure about The Year of the Rat, and I really didn’t savour the thought of a poorly written misery fest.
As it was, my fears were ungrounded. Sure, it isn’t cheerful, but it is very, very good.
It tells the story of Pearl. Pearl is sixteen, on the cusp of adulthood, GCSE’s looming, a baby sister on the way, lots of things are changing. Then the most profound change of all happens, her mother dies in childbirth, leaving Pearl and her step dad alone with a brand new, premature baby to look after.
The book is written from Pearl’s perspective and tells the story of the first year of her life without her mum. Pearl is angry. She hates her sister, she hates her step dad for loving his new daughter. She hates her best friend for getting a serious boyfriend. She hates her mum for dying, and most of all she hates herself.
The author, Clare Furniss really does seem to understand the teenage mindset particularly well, and be able to express it beautifully. Pearl is not easy to love. She is wilfully hurtful, spiteful, destructive and plain silly at times. You just want to shake her, and yet Furniss also shows her vulnerability, her fear, her failure to cope and her shame at her own feelings. She basically makes you feel that Pearl is a real person, and not a cipher for the articulation of grief.
The subject matter is not easy, the characters are not easy and Pearl’s experiences can be hard to process. This is definitely a book for the teen market, and I would recommend it for girls aged 13-16. because of the slightly more adult nature of the material. There is a romantic element to the book, although it is slight, and I was delighted to see that it is not what ‘saves’ Pearl from herself.