This is a Young Adult novel by English author Annabel Pitcher, whose first novel was My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece. Ketchup Clouds is her second novel.
I liked both the title and cover of the book, and the red birds printed on the edges of the pages. We are thrown straight into the story – Zoe has done something terrible but has got away with it. Desperate to get things off her chest, she writes to a prisoner on death row and tells him what she has done…
The story is told entirely in the form of letters from Zoe to the prisoner, and she flits between present and the previous year when the events took place. The structure is simple to follow and it really builds the tension as you try to work out what it is that Zoe has done.
What I really liked about this book was the way that serious issues were handled with a really light touch, making the tone ideal for a teenage audience. Zoe’s comments directed at the prisoner on death row are unintentionally funny and it makes the situation seem almost ridiculous – which in some ways, as Zoe realises, it is.
Although not the main focus of the story, Zoe’s home life that also comes under the spotlight. I loved the relationship between Zoe and her two younger sisters. She loves and cares for Dot, who is deaf, and she sits in her parents’ wardrobe with sister Sophie when they need to discuss serious issues and have a smoke – although they only smoke Biros, or fountain pens for a real treat. The sub-plot involving Zoe’s grandfather is also interesting and I think Pitcher weaves these different elements of the stories together well so that the sub-plots remain intriguing but without taking you away from the main focus of the story, which is Zoe’s involvement with two boys and what happens between them.
I think this is a very cleverly written novel. It tackles important issues and has a gripping storyline – you are desperate to find out what has happened to Zoe – yet it remains light and easy to read, with sweet, humorous moments thrown in. The climax is quite dramatic, but doesn’t feel overdone or unrealistic. I also loved the ending, which is sad and poignant, and I like that Pitcher didn’t feel the need to sugar-coat the story for younger readers. It is, to me, a fantastic example of YA literature for these reasons.
Just a note – this is definitely for slightly older teens as it does have a smattering of sex, boozing and bad language.
My rating: 9 out of 10