Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (website | twitter)
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: secrets, feuding parents, prisoner on Death Row, UK
Format Read: ARC received from the publisher. (Thank you!)
Summary: Zoe has a BIG secret, one she’s afraid to tell. The only way she feels she can get some closure is if she confesses. She chooses a man on Death Row, Stuart, as the person she’ll confess to through a sequence of letters.
Prison. It just dawned on me that this isn’t something I’ve read about much in my literary explorations. What are the odds that I would read two books back-to-back that would have this in common? Completely coincidence I’m sure.
Alas, Ketchup Clouds is about young Zoe, a girl who lives in the UK and begins writing letters to a Texas prisoner. She chooses a man awaiting execution from a website and begins writing to him under a pseudonym. Though she changes some locational details, she is forthright about the nitty-gritty aspects of her life that led her to write to him. Zoe has a secret — something she feels she cannot confess to anyone but this stranger. Each “chapter” is a letter Zoe writes to Stuart Harris, reliving a bit of the past and relinquishing a few more details each time.
Since Zoe doesn’t offer a return address for Stuart, the story is very much one-sided. Her letters are the platform she chooses to communicate what she’s done wrong. Stuart’s voice is conveyed through Zoe’s letters as well, as she shares with readers the little she knows about him and begins to speculate as time ticks on how he must be feeling as they approach the date of his execution. Admittedly, the speculative portions of Zoe’s letters were some of my least favorite scenes because I didn’t feel extremely connected to Stuart; maybe I sound heartless, but I desperately wanted to know what she was hiding, therefore, I needed her to quit hypothesizing about how he might feel as he lives out his last days.
Zoe is a normal-ish high school girl who lives under the strict umbrella of her parent’s rules, but desperately wants to break out of that mold to experience more: parties, dating, and boys. Her parent’s focus is skewed when a situation arises with her grandfather and miscommunication affords Zoe the opportunity to manipulate her parents and weasel her way into a few social situations. It’s here that our drama starts to unfold as we see Zoe balance a very fine line as she lies and breaks a few unspoken rules.
Ketchup Clouds held my attention as I fought to piece together the mystery of Zoe. While I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the secret in the end, I do feel it was a very age-appropriate reaction to the situation at hand and accurately depicted how I would have felt were I to swap places with Zoe. I really enjoyed that Pitcher chose such a unique way of sharing Zoe’s story, and was happy with (what I’d consider) the surprise I found waiting for me at the end of the book. I was taken a bit outside my element as I was subtly forced to think about a prisoner on Death Row, but equally captivated by the secret Zoe was so afraid to share.
If you’re looking for something different that will offer you a unique reading experience, definitely take a chance on Ketchup Clouds.