Ketchup Clouds is a book that had been loitering around my wishlist for while, even though I didn’t really know what it was about (ketchup?!) so, because my curiosity got the better of me, I finally checked it out of the library. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it straight away. Ketchup Clouds is one of those books that makes me tell everyone I know about it (of course, everyone already knew about it since it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2013, but that doesn’t stop me), and tweet about it, and talk about how wonderful the sprayed edges are. I read a lot books – although not nearly as many as some of you! – and I find that it’s quite rare for a book to consume me in such a way, yet it’s what readers are always looking for.
I like to like characters, but Zoe, our protagonist (and that isn’t even her real name – we find that out much later in the book) is pretty unlikeable, I’d say, in the way that if you’re a teenager, you’re not much a fan of fellow teenagers. She’s selfish and self-centred and tactless, yet that doesn’t seem to stop the reader from wanting the story to end in her favour. But I’ll start at the beginning. Zoe is fifteen and a murderer – she tells us this so it must be true. She is overwhelmed with the guilt that comes with causing the death of somebody close to you and she cannot possibly tell anyone the truth aside from Mr. S. Harris. Stuart Harris is an inmate on death row in Texas, who Zoe begins sending letters to because she needs someone to relate to, someone who has already been what she has been through. But what has she been through? Ketchup Clouds does not tell us this vital piece of information straight away, for Zoe is an unreliable narrator, and instead we must, piece by piece, work out what Zoe has really done. All we know is that it involves death, two brothers, and a whole bunch of secrets and lies.
Ketchup Clouds is superb storytelling and a novel that encapsulates beautiful writing. As I have said, it draws you in straight away and doesn’t let go until you are finally given some answers. We have an inkling early on about what might happen, but we keep wondering whether it might change if we don’t think about it too much. Zoe is difficult to feel sorry for, after she makes shockingly bad decision after bad decision, yet I still wanted to prevent the immense anguish caused by two very different brothers. And Zoe isn’t only preoccupied by romance and relationships for she’s having a difficult time at home. Why won’t her mother let her see her dying Grandfather? Why is one sister so awful to another sister, who is deaf? Why don’t her parents notice her slipping out at night to write these confessional letters? Annabel Pitcher tackles the nature of guilt just wonderfully and expertly – how we deal with it, why we feel it and what we can do about it. I wish I could say more, but the beauty of reading Ketchup Clouds comes with finding out for yourself how it ends, perhaps throwing in little judgements, accusations and guesses along the way, but never quite knowing until the last page. If My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is just as brilliant, it looks like Annabel Pitcher will become one of my favourite authors!
I wish my review could do this book justice – it’s my own fault for waiting over a month since I finished the book to review it. It’s quite frustrating as Ketchup Clouds deserves so much more, but all I can say is read it.
Published: 27th December 2012 (UK) 12th November 2013 (US)
Publisher: Indigo, Orion (UK) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US)