Narrator Pearl is sixteen and has attitude. One suspects she was probably a handful even before mother Stella died giving birth to premature Rose. Now she is very abrasive, unable to come to terms. Her attitude adds greatly to her father's grief, he heard quietly crying at night.
What will happen when Rose is at long last released from hospital and father is back at work? Will Pearl face up to her responsibilities or forever resent her little sister, continuing to label her "The Rat"?
The circumstances are tragic. Treatment could have been mawkish, but for the most part is not. Much will ring true for readers who have struggled to adjust to heartfelt loss.
Some may feel impact would be greater if Pearl were more likeable. I confess I preferred everybody else in the book: dad; gran; old neighbour Dulcie, her grandson Finn; friend Molly, her boyfriend Ravi; mum's first boyfriend James, who is Pearl's real dad. Several of these have serious problems too, but strive to cope without self-centred wallowing.
Readers may wonder what to make of those visitations from dead Stella. Mystical? Psychological? Or could these and the rest of Pearl's behaviour suggest she has inherited her mother's mental problems? If the latter, it causes the novel to be looked at in a completely new light, it far more significant than first thought.
I cannot claim "The Year of the Rat" was particularly enjoyed, but it certainly provided much to think about.