When I first read Annabel Pitchers debut novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, I was amazed by her skill to broach difficult subjects for a younger audience. However her writing transcends her YA pigeonhole as anybody of any age can read Annabel’s ideas and relate to them. I’d love to say that Ketchup Clouds betters her debut, however I think my soft spot for Mantelpiece will outlast any of her follow up work. That isn’t to say that Ketchup Clouds isn’t a terrific novel, it’s a very different beast.
Where Mantelpiece dealt with loss and bereavement, Ketchup Clouds looks at teenage relationships and guilt. A girl called Zoe begins writing to a death row prisoner in Texas to tell him the story of how she did something terrible and got away with it. She believes that only he would understand her situation and this leads to a tense tale of emotions.
Among all of the things that Annabel Pitcher does well, there are two things that she is superb at, finding the soft spot of your heart and writing characters with precision. Within the novel, Pitcher explores the relationships between young people and also their parents by the cast keeping secrets from each other. She adds fuel to the fire and makes the reader wait for it to combust in disastrous fashion. As a parent, I particularly like her attention to detail within the parental units. She writes the emotion and struggles of being a parent with honesty and flair. A reader can sense from every word how hard it is to be a family at times, whether through bereavement, money worries and jealousy.
It’s utterly refreshing to see a YA writer be so honest about everyday life and not look away when times are dark. I suppose the beauty of her work is in her honesty, but also in her humour. Throughout Ketchup Clouds, Zoe is usually being an ordinary teenager with ordinary thoughts, but she doesn’t pull punches, she says what she means and that often translates into that wonderful humour that breaks the tension. An example of this would be in Zoe’s letters to the prisoner, Mr Harris, where she often speculates on his life and feelings in detail and mentions the many times he stabbed his wife or what he would choose for his last meal. I suppose it’s the innocence of youth that adds light to the dark. And there is plenty of darkness.
Many bad things happen to the lovely family that Annabel has imagined for us. Each member feels a form of heartbreak and the plot interweaves many similar subjects through the characters actions and thoughts. Zoe’s little sister Dot has to be the star of the book and her story is almost as powerful as Zoe’s. Dot is deaf and her energy and happiness knows no bounds but with any disability there will be turbulent emotions. Dot was easily my favourite character purely because she’s the little girl everyone would want for a sister and one particular line will make you crumble.
I can see the name Annabel Pitcher being one that is highly acknowledged in the future for her novels and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ketchup Clouds up for as many awards as Mantelpiece.
Published by Orion. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.