Zoe has an unconventional pen pal-Mr. Stuart Harris, a Texas Death Row inmate and convicted murderer. But then again, Zoe has an unconventional story to tell. A story about how she fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other.
Hidden away in her backyard shed in the middle of the night with a jam sandwich in one hand and a pen in the other, Zoe gives a voice to her heart and her fears after months of silence. Mr. Harris may never respond to Zoe's letters, but at least somebody will know her story-somebody who knows what it's like to kill a person you love. Only through her unusual confession can Zoe hope to atone for her mistakes that have torn lives apart, and work to put her own life back together again.
◆ A copy was provided by Little Brown for review ◆
Annabel Pitcher has a talent for writing books that leave me speechless with wonder at the end.
The narration of this story is unique in that it's told in a series of letters. Zoe chooses Stuart, a man on Death Row, as the recipient of her letters because she feels like she can identify with him, claiming that she also murdered someone. Thus the pen name and fake address she uses in her letters. She tells her story in two parts: back then and also what is happening in the present. Thus, it is left to the reader to piece the story together.
Initially, Zoe really grated on my nerves. She fills her first letters meaningless chatter before she finds the will to dive into her story. I wanted her to stop stalling and get on with the story; when she does open up, however, she portrays a selfish girl juggling two guys even though it's one particular boy that she truly wants. Then I thought about it, and I remembered that we're not all saints. Most, if not all, of us are guilty of liking and maybe even flirting with two (or more) guys at the same time. As the story progressed, I really got to know Zoe and the two guys. I appreciate how human and flawed they are. They're not perfect. They make mistakes, and they have to live with them if they are to move on. The romance is also believable. Though I believe that one of the guys is better for Zoe in the end, she has something with each of them, and they're both likable in their own ways.
I appreciate how the story incorporates other aspects of her life. Zoe's home life is falling apart with her parents arguring on practically a daily basis, her sisters are distressed, and she's learning things about her family that she hasn't had to think about before. I especially love her youngest sister Dot, who brings such cuteness and joy to the novel. Soph rounds out the picture, showing how difficult it is for parents to divide their attention amongst their children. All of the characters, from the adults to the children, have their own vulnerabilities and strengths; they're realistic and so very human.
Zoe is a brave girl for telling her story with brutal honesty down to the dirty details. Though it has to be easier to tell the story to a stranger who will never meet her, she does a lot of things that I wouldn't want to tell some of my closest friends--and certainly not my mother! The story is well constructed in a way that tells the story in the order with which it needs to be told while maintaining the suspense of what happens. Given the context clues, there was a strong possibility that a certain guy was the one that died, but I didn't know for sure until she tells us what happened. And then the aftermath. Zoe's story played with my heart and broke it, especially with that last letter at the end, when I realized what the future holds for her and her first true love.
Ketchup Clouds is about first love, guilt, and reconciliation and discovery about oneself. It is a coming-of-age story wrought with hurt and secrets but also hope. Like with her debut My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher's second novel is told straightforwardly, candidly, and with simplicity. Therein lies its strength and power. I look forward to seeing what she brings to us next!