Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)
Having read Annabel Pitcher’s previous novel, My Sister Lives on The Mantelpiece, I knew I was in for a treat with Ketchup Clouds. Zoe is fifteen, hates homework, and calls herself a murderer. Mr Harris has also committed murder, and is a prisoner on Death Row. Zoe’s best outlet for dealing with the pangs of teenage life, family anxieties and consuming guilt is her pen. The story of her secret unravels in a series of letters to Mr Harris.
From the outset, Zoe is an endearing character. She is painfully honest, warm and witty. At first, the idea of Zoe as a murderer felt like Pitcher was fumbling for a twist and settled for this, but as soon as you start reading it is evident that this is not the case. Crucially, the act of murder is not the crux of the story. The two love interests in the novel are what really drives Zoe’s story. She is a teenager learning the fatal power of attraction. ‘The Mighty Max Morgan’ shows an interest in Zoe at a party, and it becomes something more than what Zoe actually wants. ‘The Boy with The Brown Eyes’ consumes Zoe, and he is the one who she develops a deep connection with. As the two relationships come to a head, Zoe becomes involved in a destructive love triangle with Aaron and Max. The depictions of first love, infatuation and guilt are powerful and moving.
The story of Zoe’s family is also interwoven into the novel. Her family is depicted as fairly ‘normal’, each character having traits that any reader can probably attribute to their family. The stress of money worries, family illnesses, and personal grudges become key to the trope of keeping secrets in the story. As Mum and Dad’s bickering continues, Zoe’s sister’s Soph and Dot begin to suffer emotionally. Dot, the youngest of the sisters is one of the best placed characters in the novel. She is deaf and her disability becomes a tender story of its own. At times, she is blunt and offers comic relief the way only a 5 year old can.
Pitcher stays away from giving Mr Harris a voice and he becomes an outlet for Zoe to work through her grief, a vehicle for negotiating overwhelming and difficult emotions. As I cried into the last pages of the book, Zoe is able to spread her wings and move forward with the next chapter of her life. This novel is one of the best examples of thoughtful and exciting young adult literature, that is subversive and yet cathartic.