This time last year, I read a fantastic début novel called My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher. It was sweet & touching, as well as powerful & thought provoking. So when the chance to grab a proof for Annabel’s new novel, Ketchup Clouds, came up, I grabbed it with both hands. Well, happily, the book came out just last week, so now would be the perfect time to review it!
Ketchup Clouds is another epistolary novel (thank-you Perks of Being a Wallflower!), which takes place as a series of anonymous letters of confession from a teenage girl, to a convicted murderer on Death Row in the US. “Zoe” has a secret that is burning her up inside, one that she can’t tell anyone. Not her Mum, not her Dad, not her sisters. She’s done something terrible, something she cannot take back. So, she finds someone she thinks will understand, someone who has done something terrible, something that can’t be taken back, & she becomes a one-way pen-pal with a prisoner convicted for double murder, awaiting the Death Penalty in America. Through a series of midnight letters, written from her shed, Zoe spills everything that’s happened in the last year. Her friends, her family issues, the boys she meets, the pressure she’s under to follow in her lawyer-parent’s footsteps, and her dreams of being a writer. She even spills the thing she did, in the hopes that maybe it will calm the storm she feels inside.
Obviously, I won’t tell you too much, but Ketchup Clouds is a surprisingly quick read. Maybe it’s because I was so gripped from page one, so drawn in to learning Zoe’s secret, I don’t know. But I will say this, it never stops just teasing the answer in every letter she writes, and each one ends, just leaving you begging for a few more hints. The letter writing has a strange style, which it took some getting used to, I must admit. As Zoe re-tells daily events, she does so in a narrative that reflects a normal story-telling style, with paragraphs, sentences and quotation marks for speech, the whole lot, interjected by Zoe’s little explanations on certain quirks of British life, or her inner-thoughts on a person’s behaviour. At first, I found this style off-putting, but once I realised her secret yearn to be a writer, it fit much more in my head, & actually helped set the character up much better. I came to love the style, the way she would observe with a great sense of wit, the daily encounters with other characters. Zoe herself is the only character we get much insight to, & because she’s painted so deeply & fully, this was never an issue for me, & I found her so much fun, so full of hopes & fears, & also, so painfully & hilariously familiar. I felt for her, her encounters that I remember having as a teenager, & that makes connecting with her darker moments so good, because I felt myself in that situation (despite having never been in such a one). The other characters, observed only from Zoe’s viewpoint, are often I imagine, slightly exaggerated, but again, this lends to the narrator’s personality, & helps create a wonderfully rounded person. Annabel also hints at underlying problems at home, themes picked up on by young, but observant Zoe, which creates a second air of mystery, another plot thread begging to be pulled & uncovered, & hints at a past in the family which might not be as squeaky clean as Zoe had believed growing up.
I suppose Ketchup Clouds is a novel about mistakes, about acceptance & about forgiveness, from Zoe & her dark secret, her mute but murderous pen-pal, & even her parents, it’s a journey about some of the worst things can be done, but it doesn’t mean we’re the worst of people. Mistakes are made, but if we regret, & if we truly feel, in our heart of hearts, then forgiveness will always come from somewhere. The humour in the novel is explosive, sexy & embarrassing, coming when you least expect it, & sometimes leaving you stunned. This really is like a Louise Rennison novel with much darker overtones, but still giggle inducing, and so it makes for a really well rounded read.
Thanks for Reading!