I got to meet the wonderful Annabel Pitcher at Cheltenham Literary Festival in October when I was accompanying Jenny Downham for their panel together. On the train there, Jenny told me about Ketchup Clouds, saying it was the best of Annabel’s books (in her opinion) so I made a mental note to read it. I couldn’t find it in the Waterstones shop on the day, but finally, several months later, the very kind Sophie Waters sent me her copy. I’ve already ordered Annabel’s other books because Ketchup Clouds is one of the best YA I have read in months: perfect voice, brilliant characters and spectacular writing.
“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.”
I was immediately hooked by the idea of a girl writing to an inmate on Death Row – something I considered myself before coming to the realisation that a real killer is a lot more frightening than just watching Criminal Minds. As I expected, I was completely taken by the first page and I didn’t stop until I’d finished, it was unputdownable. I fell in love with Zoe’s world, her adorable sister Dot and Soph as well – there’s a moment between their mother and Sophie later in the book which was so simple, but meant so much and it made me cry. I could definitely relate as the middle child in a family, even without the added focus on Dot which is presented here.
Annabel’s characters are so perfect – they are funny and believable and ultimately, incredibly lovable. I think the character of Max was absolute genius, it was done so brilliantly well. I could see why Zoe, or anyone, would like him, which was so important to the story. I ended up feeling the same way about him as Zoe did which is just brilliant writing from Annabel. In so many other books, the boy that the main character is with at first is always too obviously a ‘dick’ and you never feel sorry for them when there’s a better character who overtakes them. Max had similar traits to the ‘dick’ cliche: the focus on sex, the cocky attitude and Mr Popular image but underneath he was so much softer, so much more lovable and my heart went out to him. I liked him, but I didn’t like him, making it so easy to put myself in Zoe’s shoes and making the whole story much more powerful. Similarly, Aaron mixes the sexiness of an ‘older’ guy with kindness and a great sense of humour to just get that ‘click’. You can tell that Annabel gets teenagers – I felt like I could really relate to Zoe, and to the boys too and they were incredibly realistic. Their humour is on point and in ways it reminds me of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison who present a kind of quirky humour which feels way more real.
The mystery underneath is slowly revealed in a way that makes it so so heartbreaking to read. When it’s revealed piece by piece, you’re not shocked as such, although there were plenty of twists you don’t see coming, you’re more heartbroken. It’s like hearing about a father dying and leaving behind two young children, you just feel incredibly sad. The twists in this book feel like that, just so so sad. I honestly felt grief with and for these characters and the tragedy of it really hits you in the chest. I was completely absorbed in the story – I swooned as I read the romance, I laughed in several brilliant scenes, I cried at the end and I read it in one, superb, emotional sitting. It’s a book you truly feel to your core and that is down to the absolutely perfect and incredible writing.
I cannot wait to read more of Annabel’s books. Her voice and ability to bring a story to life is unmatched for me and I would put her at the very top of my YA pile. I now count myself as an official Annabel Pitcher fan.
Ketchup Clouds is out now! It came out in 2013, I’m just very late to the party. GO AND BUY IT!