by Annabel Pitcher
Published: 2012 by Orion
Version: Hardback obtained from library
Rating: 4.5 sofas
Secrets, romance, murder and lies: Zoe shares a terrible secret in a letter to a stranger on death row in this second novel from the author of the bestselling debut, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece.
Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret—a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder.
Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can—in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.
I was quite daunted to read Ketchup Clouds. Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Prize 2013, I’ve heard a lot of praise about it. I had previously picked up Annabel’s previous book (My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece) but it started a bit too depressing for the mood I was in so I only ever read the first couple of pages.
However, Ketchup Clouds is very different. From the first page I was hooked. Written from the perspective of 15-year old Zoe, this brutally honest account of her secret which is so terrible she only feels comfortable sharing it with a man on death row via letters. The whole book is written in letter format, which just adds the uniqueness of the book. It is frustrating at times, as she finishes a letter just as it is getting good! But thats what kept me reading, and I actually devoured the book in a day.
Although Zoe is 15, the writing is quite young. At first I would have pictured her to be about 11 or 12, but things she says later on about boys and life hinted at her being older. Some of the sentences are quite simple, I suppose to make it clear it is written from a child’s perspective. What was confusing was that several scenes were quite graphic. I know kids can be blunt sometimes, but parts of it did shock me.
What is awe-inspiring about this book is that it is based on the fact that Annabel herself wrote to a inmate on death row when she was a teenager. Its something that I always considered doing, as being in prison can be a really depressing time. This book got me thinking about real life prisoners and what it would be like to receive Zoe’s letters. I love books that leave me thinking about them for days after, and Ketchup Clouds certainly achieved that.
Ultimately I adored this book. I love the perspective and the letter style gave it such a refreshing feel. I do think the book could benefit from an epilogue or sequel (hint hint!), but it has definitely inspired me to give Annabel’s first novel a go. It is very clear why she won the Waterstones award for this original novel, and I can’t wait to see what she brings in the future. Ketchup Clouds had me gripped from the beginning and I loved experiencing the emotional rollercoaster Zoe’s letters sent me on. 4.5 sofas!