Author: Annabel Pitcher
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Pub. Date: November 12, 2013
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 12+
Zoe has a dark secret… a secret that she’s been carrying with her since a tragic day in May. Though no one would ever suspect it, Zoe is a murderer. She killed a boy she was supposed to love and got away with it. But the guilt of her actions keep her awake at night and drive her to seek out an unconventional pen pal, a Mr. Stuart Harris. Mr. Harris might be the only person who can understand how Zoe feels… he may be the only person she can confess to. After all, Mr. Harris also killed someone he was supposed to love, his wife, and he now sits on death row in Texas. So begins Zoe’s story, told entirely in letters written from a cold, damp shed to a death row inmate an ocean away. Slowly, the events that led to a deadly May day unfold, culminating in a thrilling, heartwrenching conclusion. An off-beat story fill with wry, dark humor and a bittersweet romance, KETCHUP CLOUDS is a story of love, loss, and, ultimately, redemption.
KETCHUP CLOUDS is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I’ve only read two other books that I’ve loved like this: JELLICOE ROAD and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. These are the books – the stories – that I wish I could experience again for the very first time.
Annabel Pitcher’s sophomore novel is character driven and, except for the final few pages, is told entirely in letters from Zoe to Mr. Harris, convicted murderer and death row inmate. No responses from Mr. Harris are included in the text; this is very much Zoe’s story… Zoe’s confession. But it’s important that these letters are to someone, not, for example, diary entries, because Zoe needs to be writing to someone who she feels can understand her guilt. At the same time, the epistolary format allows for a relationship to develop between Zoe and her pen pal, a relationship filled with awkward truths, dark humor, and painful memories. And it’s fitting, and perhaps necessary, that Zoe never receives a letter back from Mr. Harris, this way, she can tell her story and come to terms with what happened while feeling protected by anonymity. For Zoe, confessing her secrets is cathartic.
Because Zoe starts at the beginning, long before she was a self-proclaimed murderer, much of the book focuses on the events leading up to the murder. Through Zoe’s careful telling, the events come together slowly, fitting together like a puzzle. Zoe tells Mr. Harris about her life at home: her parents’ marital issues, her sister being bullied, her littlest sister, deaf, struggling to learn to read lips. With all the drama happening at home, no one notices Zoe… or the start of her relationship with two brothers, a relationship that ends with one dead. But, in the midst of all this darkness, there is so much love. The love between Zoe and her family, even when things seem to be spinning out of control at home. The slow, sweet love that builds between Zoe and a boy that she can’t forget, even when their love could hurt those closest to them. Zoe never imagined that her actions could end in death and, as I read, I kept hoping that they wouldn’t. Hoping that, somehow, there could be a happy ending for Zoe.
I want to take this book and press it in to the hands of every reader I know. I hope that everyone that reads it falls as madly in love with it as I did.