Magan: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Book Cover for Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (website | twitter)
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 272
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.

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Magan: One Moment by Kristina McBride

One Moment by Kristina McBride 
Publication Date
: June 26, 2012
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Death, lies and secrecy, friendship, loss of first love
Format read: eBook received from NetGalley

Summary: When Maggie’s friend Adam finds her hiding beneath the cover of the forest, she has no memory of what happend atop the rock she and her boyfriend Joey were supposed to jump off of together. She’s faced with Joey’s death when Adam escorts her down. As her memory begins to piece together, she learns how many secrets Joey had been keeping from her.

Some of the world’s greatest stories are based on tragedy. Would Romeo and Juliet have been so epic if the end hadn’t been so tragic? I’m drawn to stories that have big plots with scary events because it takes a lot of ingenuity to make it work flawlessly. (And I also secretly like to see if I can figure out all the details before the author gives us all the clues.)

In One Moment, McBride introduces us to a close-knit group of six friends – Pete, Shannon, Tanna, Adam, Maggie, and Joey – who are celebrating the beginning of summer at their favorite secluded hang out. Our main protagonist is Maggie who has been dating Joey for nearly two years. Maggie is extremely afraid of heights and since they found these huge four-story high rocks by the water, she’s never jumped off of them. She always chickens out. With a little liquid courage and a dare from Shannon she can’t seem to back down from, Maggie decides to jump off the rock with Joey. They climb, hand-in-hand, to the top, but the next thing Maggie knows, she’s being rescued by Adam from a spot she hid in the forest.

When Adam ushers her back down she finds out that Joey is dead.
She has no recollection of what happened once she and Joey got to the top of the rock.

How suspicious does this sound? I immediately assumed Maggie was hiding something and maybe she wasn’t suffering from memory loss like she proclaimed. McBride also gave away a subtle hint in the beginning of the story that led me to make bigger assumptions about what really happened to Joey. The secrecy, mystery, and desire to find out the truth propelled me forward. These six friends were thick as thieves before Joey’s death, but afterward, they’re completely out of sorts. Adam completely distances himself from the group because he’s upset over something (but won’t share the details with them). There was also a phone call between Joey and Adam, but Shannon doesn’t want to get into the details.

As Maggie’s memory slowly comes back to her, so do all the unwanted truths about Joey.

Joey is the only boy Maggie has ever loved. She never got to tell him that. Maggie’s heart becomes so conflicted as she learns that the boy she loved was not the person he was. He was living a double life. How wretched to learn that someone wasn’t who they thought they were and you no longer have the opportunity to talk it over. Maggie doesn’t know whether she should mourn the loss of her boyfriend or be angry at him for all the things he kept from her.

One Moment was incredibly fast-paced and engaging. It’s the story of friendship and a life-altering event. It will make you question how well you know the people closest to you. Your heart will break into tiny pieces (or maybe you’ll be madder than hell) when everything comes together. McBride does a wonderful job exploring how one fleeting moment changes everything and how things piece back together when you’re not even sure where to begin.

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book cover for The Thing About the Truth by Lauren Barnholdt

Magan: The Thing About the Truth by Lauren Barnholdt

book cover for The Thing About the Truth by Lauren BarnholdtThe Thing About the Truth by Lauren Barnholdt
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: lies and secrecy, public school, falling in love
Format read: ARC from Simon & Schuster

Summary: Kelsey and Isaac don’t exactly click when they first meet. However, they’ve both got more in common than they realize. Kelsey was kicked out of her prep school and Isaac has been kicked out of more schools than he can count. They start an organization to connect their public school with Kelsey’s old prep school to help students realize they are all alike, no matter what school they go to.

The Thing About the Truth revolves around the tense, abrasive relationship between Kelsey and Isaac. Kelsey is, at heart, a really good girl. Isaac acts out to capture the attention of his self-centered politician dad. Isaac and Kelsey’s meeting is nothing short of awkward. They’re both new to the public school, but upon seeing Isaac, Kelsey makes quick judgments about the type of guy he is and writes him off. She wants to fly under the radar so she can focus on getting into an Ivy League school. She’s lost the trust and respect of her parents after what she did to get herself kicked out her prep school.

To prove she’s still got her act together, her solution is to start a new organization on campus. While she’s presenting her ideas, Isaac saunters into the room and throws out an idea the principal salivates over. Thus Kelsey and Isaac become the leaders and founders of the new group – spending more time together than either of them would have hoped for. The back and forth banter and constant arguments between these two are so good (so good so good). Clearly Kelsey is attracted to Isaac, but come on. She can’t be that girl and fall at the feet of this wealthy boy who has girls tripping over him. Isaac is drawn to her confidence and screw you attitude. The biggest dilemma is that while they’re pretty candid and honest with each other, Kelsey refrains from telling Isaac something pretty big.

The story navigates the past with chapters from both character’s perspectives, but sprinkled in are chapters that focus on flash-forwards, present day. There’s this sense of them falling in love and falling hard, but then we see that somewhere along the way, things got screwed up and Isaac and Kelsey are on non-speaking terms sitting in the superintendant’s office. While trying to figure out what happened between these two, I fought the urge to jump ahead to discover Kelsey’s big secret.

Oh, the secret.

Usually, characters in young adult books have “big secrets” that don’t really seem to shock me very much and things sometimes feel a little anticlimactic.

Not Kelsey’s secret.

The girl did something that made my jaw drop. It was no wonder her parents had her on a short leash and that she was trying to redeem herself. I didn’t exactly connect with Kelsey in the way that I wanted to because I didn’t fully understand her actions. What she did wasn’t something I would ever find myself doing (I hope). Her character was really great – she’s a wonderful girl who could obviously go places – but her decision-making skills were complete crap. I wanted to have a face-to-face conversation with Kelsey to snap her out of it.

Isaac was definitely more relatable for me; I’m not sure that I have connected as much with a male character as I did him. I understood why he acted out, why he was arrogant. He was so likable and kind to Kelsey (once they called a truce) and their kissing scenes definitely made my toes curl. I could see the growth in him and wanted to be a cheerleader for his team. When Kelsey’s secrets were revealed, my stomach was in knots on his behalf.

There were a few things I wish had been further explored. (slight spoilers ahead) I understood her parent’s reaction to what she did, but Kelsey mentioned daddy issues a few times. I didn’t really see that or understand why she felt the way she did. There also didn’t seem to be a lot of resolution with Kelsey’s (ex) best friend. There were lies and a semi-big misunderstanding and nothing ever seemed to be resolved.

Although there are a few things I would have hoped for, I definitely recommend you check out The Thing About the Truth. Kelsey and Isaac are sure to make you laugh out loud or wish you were smack dab in the middle of their steamy kissing scene.

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