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Books

Great read: Ketchup Clouds

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, Indigo, $22.99.
It's called cross-over fiction; novels that speak to adults as potently as they do the youth market and if any sector is going to save the future of book publishing, surely this is it.
It's a category forged by Harry Potter, Twilight and a host of post-utopian serials, but at the more literary end there are works so unique, sophisticated and affecting, they are breaking totally new territory.
Annabel Pitcher is one such writer. She stormed the Young Adult barricades in 2011 with the deeply moving My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece about a family falling apart following one child's death in the London terrorist attacks, told through the eyes of a bewildered 10-year-old.
And with this second novel, Ketchup Clouds, the former teacher and scriptwriter presents another force majeure, this time examining the disturbingly troubled world of a 15-year-old girl racked with guilt.
From leafy suburbia somewhere in England, Zoe (the pseudonym she adopts to protect her anonymity) starts writing to Stuart Harris, a murderer on death row in Texas.
He's the only person she feels able to identify with since, like Harris, Zoe is a killer, too, only she isn't brave enough to turn herself in.
Darting forward and back in time, Zoe's tale unfolds in captivating clarity as we stomp around in the messed-up head of a teenager through her candid letters to Harris as his days left diminish.
It's like reading your daughter's Facebook, censorship removed, as we get an access-all-areas pass to teenage parties and the painfully recognisable situations girls get themselves into when puberty, passions and sexual immaturity clash.
Zoe is intelligent and though not entirely likeable the tension in her storytelling as we discover whether she has killed and if so whom, how and why, is at once menacing and thrilling.
And who is this murderer she's writing to and what makes her want to confide in him?
It's impossible not to feel empathy for our protagonist, especially as, behind the scenes, her home life is also fracturing.
Will Zoe get away with it? Pitcher keeps us in an ecstatic embrace of wonderment.
The ending doesn't quite deliver the required final punch, but the writing is so smart and surprising, you won't be able to stop reading.
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