Under the name Zoe, a girl pens letters to a Texan inmate on death row. Living in a different country to him, dealing with a family that is full of fights and secrets and navigating the perils of British high-school, she is worlds apart from him. In one respect, though, they are the same. Both of them have killed. The difference is that she has gotten away with it.
Thus begins a tale as mysterious as it is riveting. Through eloquent, poetic and sometimes funny letters, Zoe lets her deepest secrets unfurl; revealing to a man who is set to die the guilt that keeps her from living. It is a tale of love, lies and betrayal.
Ketchup Clouds is beautifully written and lyrical, without being too heavy. Because of the nature of this book, it is quite difficult to write an expansive review without giving too much away. At heart it is a tale of two boys who want the same girl. On a surface level it is a story that has been told since time immemorial; it is in the writing of Ketchup Clouds that Annabel Pitcher makes this story her own. She layers mysteries and family politics to build a tale that will stay with readers long after the last page has been turned.
Like Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, the themes in Ketchup Clouds have a depth and darkness to them not often found in teen fiction. The voice it is written in is sweet, confused and naïve though, very much in line with a typical teenager’s reasoning abilities. While this book could easily become far too heavy, it is written with a degree of humour that negates that.
The family dynamics, as always, provided me with the main reason to keep turning pages here. Zoe’s relationships with her two younger sisters are delightful. The girls are very different to one another in age as well as in behaviour, and Pitcher’s writing takes that into account; giving Zoe’s family life a depth and poignancy not found often enough in novels. Friendships too, are accurately drawn rather than being reduced to power politics. Zoe’s friend Lauren is as rounded a character as the others. While she’s loyal and supportive, she also has her own personality and motivations.
From the first paragraph, Ketchup Clouds pulls readers in. It is a bittersweet tale of loss and redemption that will resonate with people well outside of the target age group of the novel. Zoe’s voice and the portrayal of the people around her make a perfect read for a rainy day.
Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher
Orion Books (December 27, 2012)