Dear Mr. S. Harris,
Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It's jam, not blood, though I don't think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn't your wife's jam the police found on your shoe. . . .
I know what it's like.
Mine wasn't a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him exactly three months ago.
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.
Rising literary star Annabel Pitcher pens a captivating second novel, rich with her distinctive balance between humor and heart. Annabel explores the themes of first love, guilt, and grief, introducing a character with a witty voice and true emotional resonance.
About the Author
Annabel Pitcher graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English literature and went on to work in television. Her debut novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, was nominated for more than fourteen UK awards, including the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Guardian children's fiction prize, the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and two Galaxy British Book Awards. Annabel was also named one of the Guardian's ten favorite children's authors. Ketchup Clouds (now titled Yours Truly) won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize in the UK. She lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, son, and dog.
Read an Excerpt
By Annabel Pitcher
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Annabel Pitcher
All rights reserved.
S. Harris #993765
Polunsky Unit (Death Row)
Livingston, Texas 77351
Dear Mr. S. Harris,
Ignore the blob of red in the top left corner. It's jam, not blood, though I don't think I need to tell you the difference. It wasn't your wife's jam the police found on your shoe.
The jam in the corner's from my sandwich. Homemade raspberry. Gran made it. She's been dead seven years, and making that jam was the last thing she did. Sort of. If you ignore the weeks she spent in the hospital attached to one of those heart things that goes beep beep if you're lucky or beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep if you're not. That was the sound echoing around the hospital room seven years ago. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. My little sister was born six months later, and Dad named her after Gran. Dorothy Constance. When Dad stopped grieving, he decided to shorten it. My sister is small and round so we ended up calling her Dot. My other sister, Soph, is ten. They've both got long blond hair and green eyes and pointy noses, but Soph is tall and thin and darker-skinned, like Dot's been rolled out and crisped in the oven for ten minutes. I'm different. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Medium height. Medium weight. Ordinary, I suppose. To look at me, you'd never guess my secret.
I struggled to eat the sandwich in the end. The jam wasn't rotten or anything, because it lasts for years in sterilized jars. At least that's what Dad says when Mum turns up her nose. It's pointy, too. Her hair's the same color as my sisters' but shorter and a bit wavy. Dad's is more like mine, except with gray bits above his ears, and he's got this thing called heterochromia, which means one eye's brown but the other's lighter. Blue if it's bright outside, gray if it's overcast. The sky in a socket, I once said, and Dad got these dimples right in the middle of his cheeks, and I don't know if any of this really matters, but I suppose it's good to give you a picture of my family before I tell you what I came in here to say.
Because I am going to say it. I'm not sitting in this shed for the fun of it. It's bloody freezing and Mum would kill me if she knew I was out of bed, but it's a good place to write this letter, hidden away behind some trees. Don't ask me what type, but they've got big leaves that are rustling in the breeze. Shhhhwiiishhh. Actually, that sounds nothing like them.
There's jam on my fingers so the pen's sticky. I bet the cats' whiskers are, too. Lloyd and Webber meowed as if they couldn't quite believe their luck that the sky was raining sandwiches when I chucked it over the hedge. I wasn't hungry anymore. In actual fact I never was, and if I'm being honest, I only made the sandwich in the first place to put off starting this letter. No offense or anything Mr. Harris. It's just difficult. And I'm tired. I haven't really slept since May 1.
There's no danger of me dropping off in here. The box of tiles is digging into my thighs, and a draft is blowing through a gap underneath the shed door. I need to get a move on because, just my luck, the flashlight is running out of battery. I tried holding it between my teeth, but my jaw started to ache so now it's balancing near a spiderweb on the windowsill. I don't normally sit in the shed, especially not at 2 AM, but tonight the voice in my head is louder than ever before. The images are more real, and my pulse is racing racing racing, and I bet if my heart was attached to one of those hospital things, all the fast thumping would break it.
When I got out of bed, my pajama top was sticking to my back, and my mouth was drier than probably a desert. That's when I put on my bathrobe and tiptoed outside because I knew it was time to write this letter. I can't keep it in anymore. I have to tell someone, and you're the person I chose.
I got your contact details off a Death Row website, and I found the website because of a nun, and that's not a sentence I ever thought I'd write, but then my life isn't exactly turning out the way I'd imagined. There was a picture of you looking friendly for someone in an orange jumpsuit with a shaved head, thick glasses, and a scar down one cheek. Yours wasn't the only profile I clicked on. There are hundreds of criminals who want pen pals. Hundreds. But you stood out. All that stuff about your family disowning you so you haven't had any letters for eleven entire years. All that stuff about your guilt.
Not that I believe in God, but I went to confession to get rid of my guilt after triple-checking on Wikipedia that the priest wouldn't be able to say anything to the police. But when I sat down in the booth and saw his silhouette through the grille, I couldn't speak. There I was, about to confess to a man who'd never done anything wrong in his life, except for maybe having an extra sip of Communion wine on a bad day. Unless he was one of those priests who abuse children, in which case he would have known all about sin, but I couldn't be sure so I didn't risk it.
You're much safer. And you sort of remind me of Harry Potter to be honest. I loved those books when I was little. I can't remember when the first one came out, if it was before or after your murder trial, but anyway in case you're confused Harry Potter has a scar and glasses and you have a scar and glasses, and he never got any mail, either. But then all of a sudden he received a mysterious letter saying he was a wizard and his life was miraculously transformed.
Now, you're probably reading this in your cell thinking, I wish this letter was about to tell me I had magical powers, and if the website is anything to go by, I bet you're imagining healing every single one of those stab wounds in your wife. Well, sorry to disappoint you and all that, but I'm just an ordinary teenage girl, not the headmaster of a School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Trust me, though, if this pen was a wand, then I'd give you the magic to bring your wife right back to life, because that is the thing we have in common.
I know what it's like.
Mine wasn't a woman. Mine was a boy. And I killed him three months ago exactly.
Do you want to know the worst thing? I got away with it. No one's found out that I'm responsible. No one has a clue and I'm walking around saying all the right things and doing all the right stuff, but inside I'm sort of screaming. I daren't tell Mum or Dad or my sisters, because I don't want to be disowned and I don't want to go to prison, even though I deserve it. So you see Mr. Harris I'm less brave than you, so don't feel too bad when you go for the lethal injection, which I wouldn't worry about, because when my dog was put to sleep, it really did look peaceful. The website says you'll never forgive yourself, but at least now you know there are people in the world far worse than you. You had the guts to own up to your mistake, but I'm too much of a coward even to reveal my real identity in a letter.
So yeah, you can call me Zoe. And let's pretend I live on Fiction Road, I don't know, somewhere near Bath, which is an old city with ancient buildings and lots of weekend tourists taking pictures of the bridge. Everything else I'll write will be the truth.
1 Fiction Road
S. Harris #993765
Polunsky Unit (Death Row)
Livingston, Texas 77351
Dear Mr. Harris,
If you've opened this letter, I guess it means you're interested in what I have to say. That's nice but I'm not taking it as too much of a compliment, because let's be honest, you must be bored in that cell with nothing to do except write your poems, which by the way are really good, especially the sonnet about lethal injections. I read them on your profile and the one about the theater made me sad. I bet you had no idea when Dorothy followed the yellow-brick road that in forty-eight hours you were going to commit murder.
Funny I can write that almost without blinking. It would be different if I hadn't done it, too. Before, I might not have touched you with a barge pole, but now we're in the same boat. Exactly the same boat. You killed someone you were supposed to love and I killed someone I was supposed to love, and we both understand the pain and the fear and the sadness and the guilt and the hundred other feelings that don't even have a name in all of the English language.
Everyone thinks I'm grieving so they don't ask too many questions when I turn up looking pale and thin, with bags under my eyes, my hair hanging in greasy clumps. The other day, Mum forced me to get it cut. In the salon I stared at the customers, wondering how many of them had skeletons in the closet, because the nun said no one's perfect and everyone's got good and bad inside them. Everyone. Even people you don't expect to have a dark side, e.g., Barack Obama or Lisa from The Simpsons. I try to remember that when the guilt gets bad enough to stop me from sleeping. It didn't work tonight so here I am again, and it's just as cold but this time I've used Dad's old jacket to cover the gap underneath the shed door.
I can't remember the nun's name, but she had one of those raisin faces you could still imagine as a grape because somewhere underneath the wrinkles there was something beautiful. She came into my school a week before the summer holiday to tell us about capital punishment. When she spoke, it was in this quiet voice that wobbled around the edges, but everyone paid absolute attention. Even Adam. Normally he pushes back his chair and throws pen lids at girls' heads, but on that day we could take down our hoods because no one was doing anything they shouldn't, and we all gawped at this old lady as she told us about her work to abolish the death penalty.
She'd done a lot. Petitions and protests and articles in newspapers and letters to criminals, who'd written back and confided all sorts. "Like their crimes and stuff?" someone asked. The nun nodded. "Sometimes. Everyone needs to be heard."
That's when I had the idea, right there in the middle of the Religious Education classroom as the nun said a load more things I can't even remember. When I got home, I ran upstairs to the study without taking off my shoes even though Mum had just bought beige carpets. I turned on the computer and found a Death Row website, ticking the box that said Yes, I am eighteen. My lie didn't shut down the computer or set off an alarm. It took me straight to the database of criminals who want pen pals and there you were Mr. Harris, second man from the left on the third row of the fourth page, as if you were waiting to hear my story.
It all started a year ago with an unexpected phone call. For a whole week last August, I'd been plucking up the courage to ask Mum if I could go to a house party on a Saturday night. This house party wasn't just any house party, but Max Morgan's house party, and everyone was invited to mark the end of the summer because we were due back in school a couple of days later. Unfortunately the chances of Mum agreeing to let me go were less than 1 percent because back then she never let me do anything, not even shopping in town with Lauren, because she was worried about me being abducted and also about my homework.
There was no slacking off in our house because Mum quit her job as a lawyer when Dot was little. She was a sickly baby, always in and out of the hospital, so I guess it was a full-time job to look after her. Mum was there when I woke up to ask what lessons I had that day, and she was there when I got home to supervise the work I had to do that night. The rest of the time she did chores. Because of the house's size, it was hard to keep it spick, never mind span, but Mum managed by sticking to a strict timetable. Even when she watched the news, she folded the laundry and paired the socks, and when she was supposed to be relaxing in the bath, she wiped the taps with a flannel to make them shine. She cooked a lot as well, always with the best ingredients. The eggs had to be free-range and the vegetables had to be organic and the cow had to have lived in the Garden of Eden or somewhere with no pollution and no chemicals so the meat wasn't contaminated with anything that could make us ill.
Mr. Harris I tried to Google your mum to find out if she was strict, making you try hard at school and be polite to your elders and stay out of trouble and eat all your greens. I hope not. It would be a shame to think you spent your teenage years munching broccoli now that you're locked up in a cell with no freedom to speak of. I hope you had some crazy times like sprinting naked through a neighbor's garden for a dare, which is what happened last year at Lauren's party after I'd gone home early. When Lauren told me about it at school, as per usual I put on my unimpressed face to show I was too mature for such things. But when my History teacher asked us to stop whispering and look at the worksheet, I didn't see the Nazis, just all these boobs boinging in the moonlight.
I was sick of missing out. Sick of listening to Lauren's stories. And jealous, really jealous, that I didn't have a few of my own. So when I was invited to Max's party a couple of months later, I made up my mind to ask Mum in a way that would make it impossible for her to refuse.
On Saturday morning I lay in bed trying to work out how to word the question before my shift at the library, where I stack shelves for three fifty an hour. That's when the phone started ringing. I could tell from Dad's voice it was serious so I climbed out of bed and went downstairs in my bathrobe, the exact same one I'm wearing right now, which FYI has red and black flowers and lace around the cuffs. A moment later, Dad was jumping into the BMW without even having breakfast and Mum was chasing after him onto the drive in an apron and yellow washing-up gloves.
"There's no need to rush off," she said, and Mr. Harris now we're getting into the proper conversations, I think I'll set them out properly to make them easier for you to read. Of course, I don't remember every single thing that everyone said so I'll paraphrase a bit and also miss out any of the boring stuff, i.e. anything at all about the weather.
"What's going on?" I asked, standing on the porch, probably with my face looking worried.
"At least have a slice of toast, Simon."
Dad shook his head. "We've got to go now. We don't know how long he's got."
"We?" Mum asked.
"You're coming, too, aren't you?"
"Let's think about this a minute."
"He might not have a minute! We need to get going."
"If you feel you have to go, I'm not going to stop you, but I'm staying here. You know how I feel about—"
"What's going on?" I said again. Louder this time. My face probably more worried. Not that my parents noticed.
Dad rubbed his temples, his fingers making circles in the patches of gray hair. "What do I say to him after all this time?"
Mum grimaced. "I've no idea."
"Who're you talking about?" I asked.
"Do you think he'll even let me in his room?" Dad went on.
"By the sound of it, he'll be in no fit state to know if you're there or not," Mum said.
"Who won't?" I asked, stepping onto the drive.
"Slippers!" Mum called.
I stepped back onto the porch and wiped my feet on the mat. "Will someone tell me what's going on?"
There was a pause. A long one.
"It's Grandpa," Dad said.
"He's had a stroke," Mum said.
"Oh," I said.
It wasn't the most sympathetic reaction, but in my defense I hadn't seen Grandpa for years. I remember being jealous of the wafer Dad received during Communion when Mum stopped us going up to the altar at Grandpa's church. And I remember playing with the hymn book, trying to snap it shut on Soph's fingers, humming the Jaws theme tune as Grandpa frowned. He had this big garden with huge sunflowers, and once I built a den in his garage and he gave me a bottle of flat lemonade to serve to my dolls. But then one day there was an argument and we never visited him again. I'm not sure what happened, but I do know we left Grandpa's without even having lunch. My stomach was rumbling, so for once we were allowed to eat at McDonald's and Mum was too distracted to stop me from ordering a Big Mac and extra-large fries.
"You're really going to stay here?" Dad said.
Mum adjusted the washing-up gloves on her hands. "Who else is going to look after the girls?"
"Me!" I said suddenly, because a plan had popped into my mind. "I can do it."
Mum frowned. "I don't think so."
"She's old enough," Dad said.
"But what if something goes wrong?"
Dad held up his phone. "I've got this."
"I don't know." Mum bit the inside of her cheek and stared at me. "What about your shift at the library?"
I shrugged. "I'll just ring and explain there's a family emergency."
"There you go," Dad said. "Sorted."
Excerpted from Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Copyright © 2013 Annabel Pitcher. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite Ketchup Clouds was written by Annabel Pitcher and read by Julie Maisey. Zoe’s family members are each trying to deal with their own problems. Both of her parents are lawyers, although her mother has not practiced law in several years. Her dad recently lost his job and money is tight. Her parents argue constantly. She has two sisters. Sophia, the middle child, is mostly ignored by their mother. Then there is Dot, the youngest of the three sisters, unable to hear. Zoe takes on a lot of the responsibility for her siblings. Zoe feels guilty for the death of Max so, in an effort to work through her guilt, she begins writing letters to an inmate on death row in Texas. Zoe isn’t her real name and readers do not discover her real name until the end of the book. Ketchup Clouds is not light reading. This Young Adult book brought out strong emotions in me. I ached for Zoe. I found that I really cared about what happened to her. We all have our own way of expression and writing to a convict on death row was Zoe’s manner. This book is difficult to review without giving away too much so suffice to say that this is one of the best books I have listened to in months. The narrator, Julie Maisey, had just the right intonation. Ketchup Clouds is beautifully written and it captured my attention right away and held it to the very last. I will be watching for more books written by Annabel Pitcher.
This book is great! I could not put it down. This book is a lovely mix between romance and mystery! Definitely on my top 5 books!! A must read!! Even though it is about unconventional love, it feels you and you can find yourself relate to "Zoe" in a wonderful way. Read it! You won't regret it!!!
Annabel Pitcher has a talent for writing books that leave me speechless with wonder at the end. The narration of this story is unique in that it's told in a series of letters. Zoe chooses Stuart, a man on Death Row, as the recipient of her letters because she feels like she can identify with him, claiming that she also murdered someone. Thus the pen name and fake address she uses in her letters. She tells her story in two parts: back then and also what is happening in the present. Thus, it is left to the reader to piece the story together. Initially, Zoe really grated on my nerves. She fills her first letters meaningless chatter before she finds the will to dive into her story. I wanted her to stop stalling and get on with the story; when she does open up, however, she portrays a selfish girl juggling two guys even though it's one particular boy that she truly wants. Then I thought about it, and I remembered that we're not all saints. Most, if not all, of us are guilty of liking and maybe even flirting with two (or more) guys at the same time. As the story progressed, I really got to know Zoe and the two guys. I appreciate how human and flawed they are. They're not perfect. They make mistakes, and they have to live with them if they are to move on. The romance is also believable. Though I believe that one of the guys is better for Zoe in the end, she has something with each of them, and they're both likable in their own ways. I appreciate how the story incorporates other aspects of her life. Zoe's home life is falling apart with her parents arguring on practically a daily basis, her sisters are distressed, and she's learning things about her family that she hasn't had to think about before. I especially love her youngest sister Dot, who brings such cuteness and joy to the novel. Soph rounds out the picture, showing how difficult it is for parents to divide their attention amongst their children. All of the characters, from the adults to the children, have their own vulnerabilities and strengths; they're realistic and so very human. Zoe is a brave girl for telling her story with brutal honesty down to the dirty details. Though it has to be easier to tell the story to a stranger who will never meet her, she does a lot of things that I wouldn't want to tell some of my closest friends--and certainly not my mother! The story is well constructed in a way that tells the story in the order with which it needs to be told while maintaining the suspense of what happens. Given the context clues, there was a strong possibility that a certain guy was the one that died, but I didn't know for sure until she tells us what happened. And then the aftermath. Zoe's story played with my heart and broke it, especially with that last letter at the end, when I realized what the future holds for her and her first true love. Ketchup Clouds is about first love, guilt, and reconciliation and discovery about oneself. It is a coming-of-age story wrought with hurt and secrets but also hope. Like with her debut My Sister lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher's second novel is told straightforwardly, candidly, and with simplicity. Therein lies its strength and power. I look forward to seeing what she brings to us next!
Actual rating - 3.5 I have mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed the first half, but the second half, not so much. The love triangle started out okay because I thought it was going to resolve itself fairly quickly. I was wrong. It drug on, and got to be pretty unbearable. The big climax scene was really disappointing. The entire book built up to it, and then when it happened, I was left with an unsatisfied feeling. Like, really, that's all you did? The main character Zoe was quite enjoyable though, and I did particularly like her little sister Soph. She was the absolute cutest and really added to the story. This is a book that I listened to the audio of, and I really enjoyed the narrator. She did an excellent job of giving the story life, and she brought a breath of fresh air to the audio.
This book was really good. I loved it. Finished in 1 day. I love the romance involved with it, and how each day she tells this stranger how she "killed" this boy. This author is really good st writing and I will definatily check out more of her books. Well done
This book started off as just a letter to Stuart Harris, an inmate and convicted murderer. When I got to read more as Zoe told her story to Stuart, this became such a beautiful story full of sacrifice, love, guilt, and trust. I went into this book with no expectations, and I ended up loving it. It was one of those books that really moved my heart (cheesy factor has gone haywire). Zoe's guilt has been eating her up for a while, so she decides to let someone know. That someone lives across the world from her, and is someday subjected to execution. The whole book is in "letter" form, but I'm glad that it didn't bother me one bit. I still ended up loving it just as much. I feel like saying anything about this book will end up spoiling even something small, and I think this book should not be spoiled even for something tiny. I'm going to try my best for that to not happen.Zoe, a girl who "fell for two boys, betrayed one of them, and killed the other", is not who you exactly think she is. I loved her. I was able to connect with her so well, and she really felt real to me. Her story was heartbreaking, and I just wanted to be there for her and give her a hug saying everything will be fine. Zoe is just like any other teenager out there, pressure from her parents to do good at school, family problems, boy problems, etc etc. She couldn't tell her story to anyone she knew, so she decided to tell it to a complete stranger who was going to die very soon. That was sad. I don't want to give anything about the boys she fell for, but they were both great guys. I really loved them both, and it was awful to know that one of them was going to die. When the book came to an end, I was upset. I felt like I was losing my close friends, and I won't know what happens in their life anymore. I wanted to cry, but I didn't. I just felt so many emotions, it's hard to describe it. I just know that this book felt so real to me, the people felt so real to me, and it was so sad to see it coming to an end. I wonder what Zoe is doing right now, and how she's coping with her life. I guess that's the sad thing about good books...
It was good in some parts but it did get kind of boring. Overall, its a good book and had some humor. You should read this book...
One thing I can say for Ketchup Clouds is that it's definitely a unique read and I can't think of another book quite like it. Ketchup Clouds is told from the point of view of Zoe (an alias), a teenager suffering from debilitating guilt. From what, we're not exactly sure. Zoe decides to share her story with a death row prison inmate in order to assuage her guilt and share her secret with someone. Zoe relates to the inmate because, in her mind, she's killed someone as well. Through Zoe's letters, the reader learns about the events leading up to the fateful day that would change Zoe's life forever and leave one young man dead. I don't read many epistolary novels (novels written through documents, like letters and diary entries). I think it's really hard to do well. Zoe's letters read more like diary entries and I think the book would have worked better for me if that's what they were. Instead, the letters feel awkward and gimmick-y. It also bothered me that Zoe took such a long time to tell her story. She confesses a burning desire to share her tale, and then takes months to do it, even as the inmate's execution draws near. Zoe starts writing to this inmate because she says can relate to his crimes. However, after hearing her whole story, I found it hard to believe that she would identify so much with a man who murdered his wife and her lover after he caught them cheating. Zoe feels like she murdered someone but the situations were so different it was hard for me to believe she'd relate so much, though I guess it just shows how guilty Zoe feels. Zoe is an interesting character though not one that I can say I really like. She really likes one brother but starts going out with another because he happens to be available. While I don't expect every character to be a paradigm of good human behavior, I found Zoe's actions to be very selfish and immature. She's acting like a normal teenager but there was just something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. She did win a few points with me though with her relationship to her sister. She was very protective of her and their relationship was very sweet. As for the romance in the story, I definitely fell on the Team Aaron side. It was clear to me that Zoe and Aaron had so much more in common and more chemistry than Zoe and Max. I think that's why I was so annoyed that she kept things going with Max because she and Aaron seemed to have a much deeper connection. This book was really a mixed bag for me. The overall premise is original but the execution was not quite there and it fell short of my expectations. It's still a worthwhile read just because it is very unique point of view and the identity of which brother died left me guessing until the very end. No doubt this book will find fans, but it just wasn't for me.
Pads in her den and sets her herbs
Kills all the cats BWA HAHAHAHAHAHA
She pads in and senses the air. She smells a rabbit. All of a sudden a rabbit with a big but hops out she crouches and pounces on the rabbit.
Firestar. You choose where. Yes i will be your mate.
Meet me at seagull fifth result. ~Featherlight