Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
November 12, 2013
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Dear Mr. S. Harris,A Texas death row inmate death row inmate may be an unusual pen pal for an English girl sitting in her shed, writing letter in the middle of the night - but the story Zoe has to tell isn't your usual story. It's one she's been keeping mostly secret for months, a truth she's been masking with grief. The story - the confession - of Zoe and two brothers, of Zoe's love and of the guilt she's carrying for killing someone she loved.
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 the police found on your shoe. . . . (fm synopsis)
Through her one-way conversation - the letters are never returned, by Zoe's own design - Zoe just may be able to 'confess,' come to terms with what she's done and move forward.
Ketchup Clouds is Annabel Pitcher's second novel, following last year's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. There is some definite mystery to Ketchup Clouds; we know that Zoe has killed someone - or at least, believes herself to have killed someone we just don't know who. Told through her letters to Stuart Harris, the death row inmate, the story is split into the present and the past within those letters. The past being the story that Zoe needs to tell, to confess.
Even as it becomes clear that the who she murdered is a he and it narrowed down to one of two people, Pitcher does a good job keeping things ambiguous. Just when it seems that a statement, an occurrence or something has clarified who died, something else will make it unclear again. The uncertainty lends a different air to Zoe's relationships with both characters. And to her behavior in the present.
The murder and Zoe's guilt are only part of Ketchup Clouds. Stuart, the almost non-character, as we only know what we know of and about him through what Zoe says, is an interesting addition; a unique outlet for Zoe. Zoe's family, her sisters Soph and Dot, her mother, her father, her grandfather and the dynamic between all of them - in all parts of the novel - is very well done. While to Zoe is may just be background noise, be the everyday goings-on, it's not background noise for the novel. It gives a fuller picture of who Zoe is but also of the personal guilt and growth themes of the novel.
The romance of Ketchup Clouds did seem to be a bit more secondary, a bit less in the forefront than Zoe's family and main 'story' did. What was there was great, though. I almost wished it could have been a larger chunk of the book, but that wasn't what this book was, that wasn't Zoe's tale. Maybe Annabel Pitcher will write something with more of a romance in it someday.
thank you to LBYR and NetGalley for my egalley for review