Zoe wants to make a confession. She can’t tell her friends or family of her guilt, so instead she writes letters to a convict on death row. If anyone can understand, he can. She killed a boy and she got away with it.
The first morning of the year began with a bright red sunrise as if all my anger was burning in the sky.
Ketchup Clouds at its heart, is a story about guilt. Whether or not that guilt is justified, it wells up inside Zoe (not her real name) and forces her to hide in the garden shed to write letters to a stranger. A stranger whose reaction we never see. As she writes, we discover she has got involved with two brothers. One is a rather typical teenage boy (and how refreshing this is to see) and the other is the perfect match so often present in YA fiction. There’s this huge reality check; relationships are not always romantic.
Whilst her love life might be a bit of a disaster, she is the heart of her family, looking out for her sisters whilst her parents are going through a rough patch. I loved the family dynamics and it makes you like Zoe despite her other behaviour. Her youngest sister is deaf, portrayed as a wonderfully vibrant character and the middle sister is rather mean but with reasons that will be revealed.
Zoe’s narrative voice is spot on. Some of her actions are immature and her writing feels young. But it’s not over-simplified or patronising. I found myself laughing at times, loving the irony and her matter of factness. Then there’s the way the letters sound conversational even though there are no replies. They start off addressed to Mr S Harris and slowly become more informal until she’s calling him Stu. Her belief in the goodness in him made me want his story to turn out well too.
This structure does seem to be a growing trend in young adult fiction; the protagonist who has done something bad, revealing part of the picture from the start and using the rest of the novel as a slow reveal. Here, it is done well, but I’m not sure I’d want to read these sorts of books all the time. It helps with the pace as you want to keep reading to get round full circle but I always feel the book is waiting to catch up.
I had a proper snuffly cry at the end. It’s a fantastic book for teenagers to read. I don’t think guilt is always an obvious emotion but it’s one that can ruin lives and relationships.
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