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I have to admit that what first attracted me to this book was the cover. I was browsing through Waterstones online when I stumbled across it and, armed with a Christmas gift voucher, I added it to my cart without much thought. When I later read the description, I thought it sounded like an interesting read. When it arrived and I decided to read the first couple of pages to get a feel for it, I was sucked in almost immediately.
The style of this book is sort of written as though it were letters, though it becomes quite easy to forget that until the beginning and end of each one, where Zoe addresses Stuart Harris directly. Other than that, it feels like you're just reading a book from the point of view of a fifteen year old girl. This happens to be the main reason that I only gave this book five stars, because I did really enjoy it, but it's a very well written point of view, in that she truly sounds fifteen. There's only so much adolescence I can take as I didn't even like them when I was one!
I should point out right away that I was not at all a fan of Max Morgan. And his attitude throughout the book did nothing to alter that. He felt like a bit of an arse, if I'm honest, and I didn't understand the draw to him at all. Adam, on the other hand, seemed pretty sweet, and I liked the dynamic between him and Zoe from the get-go. Their very first conversation was out of the ordinary, and served as evidence as to their similar characters. I also really liked the portrayal of Soph and Dot, Zoe's younger sisters, though I thought Soph was a lot older than nine until it was actually revealed. Not such a good portrayal of a nine-year-old there. The sisterly relationships were great though, and I thought little deaf Dot was a real cutie.
The plot was really intriguing. Because you find out what Zoe's big secret is within the first couple of pages, I spent the rest of the book speculating who the person she was talking about might be (I guessed right, though I think it becomes quite obvious once you get into it). The need to know why it had happened drove me to finish this book in one sitting.
One thing I was kind of hoping for more and more towards the end of the book was that Zoe would tell Stuart Harris her real name and address in order for him to reply to her letters. I think that would have really made the book pop, having a convicted murderer writing back to a fifteen year old girl about her secret. His perspective would have taken it to another level, and while I understand why it wasn't included (Zoe's fear of him turning up at her door aside), I really do wish it had been.
I've seen a couple of reviews of this book in which people complain about not knowing where the title for this book comes from. That baffled me really, because although it's not a hugely important scene, it is literally taken straight from the book, in which Dot is making her food into clouds in the mountain of ketchup she's squirted onto the plate. It might not have much to do with the plot, but I actually thought it was the perfect title; just weird enough to draw people in if they're looking for something a bit different, but not so weird that it begins to look like the author is trying too hard to be 'cool'.
Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I think I may have to give Ms Pitcher another shot at some point in 2014, should the opportunity arise!
About the book
Ketchup Clouds is the second novel by Annabel Pitcher. It was published by Indigo on 27th December and the book is 304 pages long. Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
Synopsis (Taken from Goodreads.com)
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.
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.
What I thought
Ketchup Clouds has a different way of telling the story in comparison to what I'm used to reading. Main character Zoe has done something terrible and stuck with living with the guilt, she knows she has to get it off her chest. Only, she can't tell anyone she knows so she decides to write to a prisoner in America who is on Death Row. Knowing he can never reply or tell anyone about what she has done, Zoe begins to pour out her story on the pages of letters.
I really enjoyed the narrative style of Ketchup Clouds because it was so different. I felt that the letters Zoe wrote made it possible to really get to know her. As she writes to a man waiting to die, she really does tell him everything - apart from her real name and address of course. I feel as though if this book had been written in a normal narrative style, maybe Zoe wouldn't have been quite so truthful. This outlet for her emotions was a great way to know everything about her.
Zoe doesn't tell us her story in one go though, she makes us wait for the answers. I was desperate to know what actually happened but I also really enjoyed only getting little bits in each letter. Here, we get to learn about love interests Max and Aaron and the problems that Zoe's family is having. Getting to know Zoe's sisters in particular was a favourite aspect of the letters as the girls were so different. What I also liked was the fact that all of these things had an impact on Zoe's life and the decisions that she made.
What made this book so special for me was that all of the characters are intensely real. They were all characters which I could picture real people being put in their places. The problems encountered in this book, for the most part, are issues or topics that a lot of people will be able to relate to. Many girls will be able to put themselves into the situation of liking two boys at once as well as going through family issues concerning money and siblings.
Ketchup Clouds is a very emotional read which I was not ready for at all. Annabel Pitcher is a wonderfully real writer and I wish I had read her first book now!