The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

Dead or absent parents seem ubiquitous in children’s literature at the moment, and this melancholic novel about a teenager dealing with the death of her mother is rumoured to have been hotly contested by eight publishers. When Pearl’s mother dies from complications of pregnancy, leaving her alone with her stepdad and newborn sister (the Rat), she shuts down and loses all interest in life. School, her best friend, family, even food, all become meaningless as she wallows in self-pity and conversations with her dead mother. Pearl appears to be fading away until an ill-fated trip to find her real father wakes her up to some necessary truths.

The long, bleak middle of this novel left me frustrated and gasping for fresh air, but I loved the beginning and the finale.

Angela Crocombe