Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret - a dark and terrible secret that she can't confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder.
Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can - in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.
When Annabel Pitcher's debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was published in March last year she really raised the bar for authors of young adult novels and set herself a very very high standard to keep. The novel was shortlisted for numerous awards and was praised by other authors, by the press and by book bloggers. You can read my review here.
I was very excited to receive a pre-publication copy of her second novel Ketchup Clouds which will be published by Indigo (an imprint of Orion) at the end of the year.
The lead character; Zoe, has done something wrong, or so she thinks. She has lived with what has happened to her for the past year, feeling guilty, yet hiding her feelings at the same time. Zoe's family have their own problems and she doesn't want to burden them any more. Mum and Dad are constantly bickering, about money, about jobs, about Grandpa, it seems to Zoe that they argue about everything these days. Her sister Soph is ten years old and struggles to find her place in the family, and then there is the baby of the family; little Dot. Dot is deaf, yet funny and happy but Mum does seem to spend so much more time with her than either of the others.
When a Nun visits Zoe's school to talk about capital punishment and tells them about prisoners on Death Row in the USA, Zoe becomes intrigued. It is there, in the most unlikely place, that Zoe finds someone she can confide in. Stu Harris, convicted murderer, facing the death sentence. Zoe creeps out into the garden shed night after night and writes letter after letter to Stu, spilling her secrets and her innermost thoughts honestly and candidly.
Annabel Pitcher creates a wonderfully lifelike and credible teenage voice in Zoe, allowing the reader to find out slowly and surely just what has happened to her over the past year. The family rows, the teenage angst, the blossoming relationships with boys, the responsibilities of being the older sibling, but at the same time she doesn't give much away. The sense of intrigue and the feeling of suspense builds up right up until the last few chapters when finally all is revealed to the reader.
There are only a very few authors of young adult fiction that can really engage me as an adult reader, who can write novels that seem as relevant to an adult as they do to teenagers. Tabitha Suzuma and the late Siobhan Dowd are two of the best, and Annabel Pitcher is now firmly up there with them in my eyes.
Ketchup Clouds is a compelling, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking and always original story of a young girl's guilt and fear, it's also a story of new beginnings and hope. The characters become real, the writing is engaging and very very special.
Fans of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece can breathe a sigh of relief, Annabel Pitcher has produced another sure fire winner.