by Annabel Pitcher
To be published by Little, Brown BFYR
on November 12, 2014
Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss
Summary from Goodreads: Zoe has an unconventional pen pal-Mr. Stuart Harris, a Texas Death Row inmate and convicted murderer. But then again, Zoe has an unconventional story to tell. A story about how she fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other. Hidden away in her backyard shed in the middle of the night with a jam sandwich in one hand and a pen in the other, Zoe gives a voice to her heart and her fears after months of silence. Mr. Harris may never respond to Zoe's letters, but at least somebody will know her story-somebody who knows what it's like to kill a person you love. Only through her unusual confession can Zoe hope to atone for her mistakes that have torn lives apart, and work to put her own life back together again.
My take: Take a premise I am crazy about -- girl with a guilty secret who writes letters to a death row inmate -- and tell the story using a literary device I am less crazy about -- a story written in letters -- then mix in a plot structure that just makes me crazy, and you get a book that was like this book's title: a mash-up of some good things that didn't work together for me. (The title Ketchup Clouds is inspired by the main character's sister, who sits at the dinner table mixing ketchup with her mashed potatoes.)
I loved the first couple chapters of Ketchup Clouds. They highlighted all my favorite parts of this book:
1) The VCP -- Very Cool Premise. I mean, a girl who has a terrible secret and writes letters to some guy on death row? Sign me up!
2) An amazing narrative voice. Zoe's voice was charming -- funny and captivating, full of the irreverent British humor I adore...
But then Ketchup Clouds began to drag, for reasons based on my personal preferences as a reader:
1) The limitations of the epistolary format. Stories told in letters written by one person can become a lengthy monologue that might or might not hold my attention for an entire book. Zoe is a good storyteller, but to me, epistolary stories are missing the full range of imagery, dialogue, and character development that regular prose can offer. In the case of Ketchup Clouds, the cool factor of the serial killer was diminished for me by the fact that a) he can't write back and b) I'm not even sure he's receiving the letters and c) the shock value wore off after a few letters
2) The plot's complete dependence on a Big Reveal to create suspense and hold my interest. In my opinion, this is another tricky storytelling device. I generally lose patience with stories that promise a big, exciting, shocking reveal and then keep me waiting and waiting around until the end. The problem with that much build up is that the pay-off rarely measures up. It's like that person at the party who tells you about the hilarious, fantastic joke they are about to tell you. "OMG -- it's so funny! You'll love it!"
Hype is a dangerous thing, and Big Reveals are rarely as exciting as I hope they will be. Plus, I've seen this Big Reveal several times before, including in another November YA release. Ketchup Clouds threw in some GFD (Gratuitous Family Drama) to try to entertain me until the end, but I was not having any of that. Plus, it just seemed weird to to have to listen to Zoe's parents bicker when, in chapter one, their daughter has just told me she was a coldblooded murderer.
So, while Ketchup Clouds was not the perfect story for me, if you are a reader who enjoys a Big Reveal and doesn't mind a story told in letters, you might completely love it. I really enjoyed Annabel Pitcher's writing style and eye for humorous details and will definitely try My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, her middle grade, as well as her future YA books.