Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher

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I don’t know if I’ve told you, but if you click the pictures on my reviews, you get cool surprises 🙂

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.

Letters to a death-row prisoner from a young killer. Interest peeked.

This book isn’t exactly what it says on the tin, but it is something you should experience, if only for the sheer power of the style used to convey the story. There are a few issues, but somehow the letter/diary format glues everything together well, placing the reader in the position of the sympathetic ear, mostly constructed by the protagonist’s needs and expectations. The convict, whose story is dictated only in connection with Zoe’s, adds a degree of tragedy, which in turn illuminates the hopeful elements and themes.

Pitcher tackles a lot of subject matter, from family relationships to young sexuality, in what I would deem a relatively short read. In connection to the characters, especially with regards to the protagonist’s family and their dynamic these work well. Everyone has their own problems and crosses to bare, and yet Pitcher keeps them all and check and gives each adequate time and development. However, later in the story, and in the case of many other issues and themes, there just isn’t enough allotment given to create tension. It would have been nice to see some of the elements dropped entirely to allow some of the more powerful themes better focus. For the same reason, the resolutions to a lot of the problems introduced are too quick, and poorly thought out.

Thanks again to the style, the protagonist has a great authentic voice, which dips at the beginning with slight info dumping, but quickly develops into an easy and well-written form as the story progresses. The only annoying thing are the ticks Zoe has been given. Word repetition, word repetition, word repetition for example. These unnecessary traits also add to the age confusion. The voice of the reader sounds relatively young, but judging by her mature actions she must be at least mid-teens. The contradiction between the two does get off-putting in some areas.

Zoe is surrounded by well written characters; her family, who are beautifully realistic, her friends, who are fun to read, and her love interests, who introduce the first semi-realistic love triangle I’ve ever encountered in a novel. Hazaa! These are boys who actually act and react like teenage boys; one wants a lot of the indulgence of a physical relationship but is not an all-out jerk, the other is arrogant, but sweet, and neither simply falls for, or panders to the will of the female protagonist. It isn’t a perfectly written scenario; it’s predictable and cheesy sometimes, but it still manages to be engaging and self-aware. Kudos Mrs Pitcher.

The book was marketed to be more edgy than it actually is, but there is some great tension and really engaging character dynamics. It’s worth picking up for the unique style alone.

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