A few weeks ago I watched a bookstore tour on YouTube by Maliemania where she and a few of her friends got together at their local bookshop and shared some of their favourite books. One of her friends chose Ketchup Clouds, and I remember thinking that it was so cool of him to choose something that wasn’t overly popular like everyone else’s choices. I never added it to my tbr, or even planned to read it for that matter, but then I found a copy hidden on one of the shelves at Bargain Books Warehouse and grabbed it. And let me tell you, I am SO happy I did!
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.
It’s always difficult for me to review this kind of book because it’s so much better going into it unprepared; but I felt that I needed to write a full review of it because before watching Malie’s video I never heard about it at all. Also, once I finished the story and went to add it to my Goodreads Reading Challenge, I was quite surprised and a little shocked to see that the overall rating was pretty low. It’s disappointing that anyone who reads the reviews will likely give this book a miss, because it was truly a fantastic story that once again reminded me of why I love Young Adult Contemporary Fiction so much.
Let me start of by saying that Ketchup Clouds was such an intriguing story. Apart from the actual tragedy, all through the book I could relate to what the narrator was going through which made it so easy to form a connection with her character. Things like eavesdropping on her parent’s arguments, or doing something nice to get into their good graces so that she can go out with her friends – it was just so typical that I couldn’t help but feel close to her. It also made it so much harder when it came to ‘the incident’ because I was constantly putting myself in her shoes, contemplating that kind of trauma at such a young age. An age where you get to be 100% selfish and no one will question or blame you because you are a teenager.
A reason some people gave for not liking this book was that there was too much happening in the story; and I thought this was a pretty ignorant way of looking at it. Because if you ever went through something really tragic, if you can think of any point in your life where you felt like your world came to a crashing halt, then you would understand that during those times you still have to carry on and deal with all the other facets of your existence. You still have to deal with relationships and school, trying to be there for the ones you love while using the left over strength to keep yourself together – it is unbelievably hard, but it feels like everything is happening all at once and you become so overwhelmed by the weight of it all.
So I completely disagree that this book focuses on too many issues, or that it is too busy and therefore difficult to relate to the story and characters. In fact, I feel that Annabel Pitcher captured that feeling spot on, and it is why I love this book so much. Even though the main character is going through something really difficult, we still get to see everything else in her life that she still needs to pay attention to. We get to read about her parent’s struggles, the relationships between her and her two sisters, Zoe’s own guilt, as well as the effort to carry on with day to day activities; because the world goes on. It’s realistic and dimensional, because every person on Earth have a thousand different pieces that makes up their lives…
Humans. We’re all the same. There’s no escaping it. Doesn’t matter what language you speak or what clothes you wear. Some things don’t change. Families. Friends. Lovers. They’re the same in every city in every country in every continent of the world.” – Ketchup Clouds, Annabel Pitcher
This book is real and raw, and where so many YA books these days choose to give you a story wrapped in fluff and convenience, this one gives you clear cut truth that I found to be refreshing. Even though it is written rather light and a little bit quirky, you are always aware that the story is headed toward heartbreak and pain. And I just love that Annabel Pitcher never tried to explain things away or create a convenient gap in the story where the characters could very well take the easy way out, not being bothered by reality. It was such a fantastic book that I wish more people would read.
I gave Ketchup Clouds a well deserved 5/5 stars.