Title: Ketchup Clouds
Author: Annabel Pitcher
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Standalone/Series: Standalone Title
The story revolves around Zoe – not her name, but a pseudonym – who has a dark secret that she cannot share with those she loves so instead, she picks up a pen and writes to a prisoner in America on Death Row, using it as an outlet for her guilt.
I do not own the content taken from this novel. All rights belong to Annabel Pitcher and Orion Publishing Group.
“Dear Mr. S Harris,
Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It’s jam not blood, though I don’t think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn’t your wife’s jam they found on your shoe.”
(Ketchup Clouds, Annabel Pitcher, 2013)
Narration: Zoe as narrator is a funny girl. Just take a look at the opening paragraph above. The way that she views the people in her community and her surroundings make it easy to read though I can’t help but feel that there is an issue with her age. Zoe is supposed to be a fifteen year old girl telling this story and yet, her mannerisms are sometimes childish and she comes across, at times, as a lot younger. At the same time, she is seen to drink vodka at a house party and sleep with Max. This suggests that she may be a year (or two) older. Later, her age is later clarified but it has a slightly jarring effect. Luckily, the format of the book – the use of letters – disguises this issue, to an extent, as it allows the reader to feel closer to Zoe and makes for a more intimate and personal journey (The conclusion to each letter becomes increasingly informal and warm even ending with kisses halfway through the novel).
Character: The most important thing to recognise is that these are REAL characters with REAL problems and REAL relationships. Zoe’s parents are dealing with a potential divorce and we see how this affect Zoe’s sisters – Dot and Soph – and how they try to understand and cope with this. I even feel like we begin to understand Stu through Zoe. Even though he is being convicted for murdering his wife and her lover, I begin to feel sorry for him towards the end of the novel. My main issue with the characterisation is with the ages of Zoe’s sisters. Dot is supposed to be 5 and Soph is supposed to be 9. They read much older in the novel. At one point, Dot falls down the stairs, hurting her wrist but the next day, she feels now pain and she is able to wave out the window at Soph as she goes to school.
I love the insight we get into Zoe’s family life. They are characters who are all dealing with real, individual problems (for example, Soph’s cries for attention and Dot’s struggle in picking up lip-reading). The love triangle in the book is refreshing because the boys aren’t overly romanticised and the plot doesn’t obsess over the romantic details. Aaron and Max aren’t perfect and the author doesn’t try to mould them the way so many other authors have.
Plot: The plot moves at a reasonable pace. Zoe tends to go off on tangents and leave details for the next letter, making it seem more real (that this is a fifteen-year old girl writing at night in a shed by torchlight). Zoe’s secret keeps the reader wanting to know what happens and her little tidbits make you want to devour the book in one sitting. While this story is being told, we are constantly reminded in her letters that Zoe is telling this story to a man that is on Death Row for killing his wife. This is a tale that is both light and humorous and dark. It touches on divorce and brings to light, the death penalty, murder, underage drinking and adolescent sex. Though at times, Zoe can go off on a tangent for too long when really, all I want to know is what happens next!
Setting: I love the neighbourhood in which this is set. I can vividly picture the houses and the trees, the layout of the library where Zoe works and the locations of the books. Pitcher gives us enough to piece together the world she wants us to see; the world in which these characters live. We don’t get to see as much of the world as I would like though. I feel as though we have taken a slice into a strawberry gateaux and while we are seeing a bit of everything, I can’t help but feel that we are missing something between the visible layers.
Comparative Literature: This book represents the thing I love most about Young Adult Lit. There are so many boundaries and conventions in this genre and this book challenges them. The book deals with sex, underage drinking, touches on divorce, explores murder and lying as well as presenting us with a protagonist that divides the reading audience. When I read this, it reminded me of some of the novels in recent years that have presented us with edgier content like The Fault In Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why. This section is purely to look at how this book stacks up against the other books in this category. Zoe has a strong voice, the plot is simple but effective, the story is a little darker than most readers might be used to but overall, Green has a wittier narrator and pushes further with his character. Consistency in age is also better presented. Asher haunts the reader more, touching on a huge theme of suicide and the dark spiral of depression that leads to that final destination.
An enjoyable read. A funny narrator that divides the audience. Characters that have real relationships and are challenged with real problems.
Books You May Also Like:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (I chose to include this partly because of the letter format and partly because of the way that Handler deals with and focuses on a break-up rather than an “epic” love)