The Year of the Rat – Book Review
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 and wrinkled and writhing. This little rat has destroyed everything, even ruined the wonderful relationship 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 the her sister – The Rat – is a constant reminder of why her mum is no longer around.
The year of the Rat is a deeply moving book that will definitely tug at the heart strings. And while I’m not generally a fan of contemporary reads, I had heard that this book was quite the emotional rollercoaster, and despite my reluctance for the genre, my curiosity eventually got the best of me. However while I didn’t exactly fall in love with the story, the book really did pack a huge punch that caused me to shed more than a few tears.
The story follows the life of fifteen year old Pearl. Opening on the day of her mother’s funeral, the reader is immediately informed of the close bond Pearl shared with her mother, and Pearl’s bitterness towards her newborn sister, Rose, aka ‘The Rat’ of whom she blames for her mother’s death.
Spanning the space of a year, the book takes you on Pearl’s journey through each stage of her grief. The denial, the guilt, the misplaced blame and of course, that anger than comes with a sudden loss. Yet what I found most interesting was the sporadic appearances of Pearl’s mother in ghost form. For me it was these beyond the grave conversations that helped make this story special.
As a main character Pearl is really complex. In the beginning her emotions are very raw but as the story is told in first person, it’s easy to relate to her mood swings and understand her perspective.
Yet watching Pearl’s slow acceptance of ‘The Rat’ also kept me turning the pages. While at times, I found Pearl’s actions horrifying, they were undeniably human and my heart would bleed for her with each new wall she would throw up between her and the world. So while by no means a happy story, ‘The Year of the Rat’ is without doubt one of depth and feeling.
What most drove me to keep reading the book though was its blatant honesty towards family life. Every family is special; whether that family is connected by blood, friendship or marriage. And as most parents keep some truths hidden from their children, this book shows how such things can lead to the children misunderstanding and making bad decisions, such was the case with Pearl.
Furthermore this book also explores the darker element of women who don’t initially bond with their children. Yet I also liked how these symptoms echoed in Pearl, especially when she accepts that her feelings of rejection and hate towards ‘the rat’ are abnormal. Nonetheless, she can’t help but blame her mother’s death on her innocent sister.
As the story goes on, Pearl isolates herself more and more. Losing interest in her old life, she cuts herself off from her friends, skips school and begins to turn to alcohol to deal with her problems. All in all, it is a crazy year of ups and downs for Pearl that have a significant impact on the adult she is turning into. This book, especially for a debut novel, is a truly powerful read.
Overall, a gripping and beautifully written story that captures a young girl’s grief and tragedy. ‘The Year of the Rat’ will take you on a heartfelt journey that will teach you to let go of the past, cope with loss and remind you to keep on living. Truly spectacular! 4 Stars!