Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A wonderful, romantic and sad story told through a series of letters written by a fifteen-year-old girl to a man on death row. It's heartstoppingly gorgeous and we'd recommend it to anyone.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Indigo
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1780620152

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Winner: Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2013

Longlisted for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal

"Zoe" has a terrible secret. She feels responsible for the death of a boy. It burns and burns and she has a huge need to confess but has no-one to confess to. And so she decides to become the pen pal of a prisoner on death row in Texas. Her letters to Stuart tell both her story and his. Zoe is a pseudonym - as is her address in "Fiction Road" - but the tale she tells in midnight writing sessions in the garden shed, is true. It's the story of family tension, of a love triangle, and of a grief and guilt almost too big to bear...

Pitcher's first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was always going to be a hard act to follow. She confronted the difficult issue of racism and bet the whole shebang on the voice of a ten-year-old. She pulled it off and then some. Ketchup Clouds has a very different story, but in essence, she's done the same thing - taken a topic and hung it on the voice of a fifteen-year-old girl. If the voice isn't right, the whole book will fail.

The book doesn't fail. In Mantelpiece, Pitcher brought a little boy and his situation to life, in all its joys and all its difficulties. And she does the same with "Zoe" in Ketchup Clouds. Zoe's mother is over-protective and very controlling and so Zoe is inexperienced, both in terms of her age and relative to her friends, who are all given more freedom. So, for Zoe, first love is even more difficult than it is for most of us. Should she go for the available Max? As the best-boy-in-the-school, he comes with peer group kudos attached. And we all know how important that is. But Max is only fanciable; he's not loveable. Aaron is loveable. But it looks like he has a girlfriend. He seems interested but he doesn't declare himself. If you were fifteen, what would you do? Zoe tries to hedge her bets. And I'd bet you'd probably do the same.

As the consequences of Zoe's decision begin to play out, Pitcher also slowly peels back the sources of the tensions in her family. On the surface, Zoe's mother is awful. She's controlling of her children, resentful of her father-in-law, judgemental of her husband. She doesn't bend for anyone or anything. But as you begin to understand why she is like this, your whole view of her changes. Pitcher also drops hints about Zoe's story in subtle parallels with the story of the man on death row to whom she is writing. This is a clever, multi-layered book. It's heartstoppingly sweet, very sad, and very, very real. Everyone should take notes on how to write a love story from this gorgeous novel because I believed every word. And, of course, I cried.

Highly recommended.

If Ketchup Clouds appeals, I think you'd also like This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees, a dark and unsettling novel featuring three characters interconnected by more than just a love triangle, although it's that too. It was longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013.

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