Honest and lively YA book reviews
When I was a kid I was always writing these dumb little stories in my Hello Kitty notebook and I used to doodle all these stupid cartoon strips and I wished I could be a writer or an artist. My brother tore my dream down and stomped all over it so no, I'm not a writer or an artist but there's still part of me that, if I had enough confidence, feels like I'd like to give it a go. This little pity-party is not the point to my story - what I'm trying to say is my little scribblings and sketches as a child were horrible. All "He said this" and then "She said that" (I was big on dialog) and I wasn't even that young - I was 12 goddam years old !! And then there was the poetry - Oh dear god the poetry. That was when I really started getting into my stride. I was like, 15 years old and I filled notebook after notebook with these ghastly poems. They really were hideous. I tried to find some to share (I'm waaaaay past the embarrassment, though they used to make me squirm so much I fell off a chair) but I guess I burnt them and then scattered the ashes at sea because they're nowhere to be found. Kid me makes Adult me LOL.
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher kinda reminds me of Kid-Ally's cringe-worthy attempts at writing a book. I really don't mean this in a massively derogatory way - after all there was something charmingly sweet about Kid-Ally's 10 page novel about a guy who lives in a supermarket with a ghost (yeah, I told you it was pretty bad) - I mean it more in the way that the whole thing is so juvenile and kinda uncomfortable.
Zoe has apparently done something terrible. So terrible she doesn't want to talk about it. Instead she chooses to get it off her chest by writing to a prisoner on death row and confessing her "crime" to him because she feels he'll understand. The book is written as a series of letters to this guy from Zoe as she confides in him details of her life, her loves and her losses.
I don't know what age Zoe is. She's old enough to work in the library, to go to parties when one of her friends gets an empty and to make out with a boy who goes to college so she could be like, 15 or 16 years old? She sounds 12. She's blunt she's rude, she's self centred and her voice through the medium of letter writing is very young. Her grandfather had a stroke and all she can think about is how she was able to use this to her advantage:
"As I drifted off to sleep, I found myself thanking Grandpa. I only went to the party because of his stroke, and even though I was in trouble and most probably grounded for the rest of my life, I couldn't help but think of it as a stroke of good luck."
This is why I don't want kids. Aside from the noise and the mess and incessant questioning, I can't stand this level of self-centred behaviour. Yeah, whatevs only kids can't help it blah blah. But it still bugs the crap outta me. And Zoe isn't even that young - if she's old enough to let some college dude take her bra off in a garden shed then she's old enough to give a fuck about her relative lying helpless in a hospital bed. Jeez. What a bitch.
I thought this book was going to be the emotional account of a kid who made a mistake, coming to terms with it, finding the bravery to get help. Instead it's a rather tedious recollection of the summer Zoe screwed around with two brothers and lied to them both. Zoe is seeing Max, a kid in her year at school but really she only has eyes for his older brother, Aaron and starts getting to know him better behind Max's back. It's all very high-school-drama-esque, and I stopped giving a crap about that shit years ago. Especially when it involved a brat of such epic proportions as Zoe.
The whole letters to a prisoner thing is a bizarre gimmick which I couldn't really get behind. The girl is describing all her sexual endeavours, her family in enormous detail, her school, her friends and yet she pleads anonymity by changing her name and address. She's dumb. She's a dumb kid. She makes bad choices. We all make bad choices when we're young - that's how we learn - but Zoe is devious, callous and foolish. She lies to her mother, she lies to her friend and uses her as an alibi more than once without her knowledge and she plays the two brothers off against each other. We could argue this makes her a more realistic protagonist but really, it just makes her a pain in the ass. I found it very difficult to have any sympathy for Zoe and her plight because it is all her own doing. She's begging for forgiveness, fishing around for pity:
"No-one's found out that I'm responsible. No-one has a clue and I'm walking around like that boy, Scot Free, saying all the right things and doing all the right stuff, but inside I'm screaming. I daren't tell mum or dad or my sisters because I'll be disowned and I don't want to go to prison even though I deserve it."
It's not a spoiler to say she believes she killed a boy. It's revealed early on. But she doesn't have a single thought for the boy who lost his life, his family, his poor grieving mother. All she cares about is herself and her own loss and her own guilt. She's selfish, spoiled and disrespectful.
I felt so bad for everyone in Zoe's life. They were going through some real shit. Zoe's youngest sister has health problems and is deaf. Her father is coping with the ill-health of his own father who has suffered a debilitating stroke. Max is dealing with abandonment issues after his father left and remarried. And Zoe is there dicking about, stepping all over other people's feelings and refusing to leave her little teenaged bubble and actually give a crap about other people. The worst of it all is that Zoe learns fuck-all from the whole debacle. There appears to be zero character development from start to finish. I don't feel like she gained anything from her experience. Sure, she agreed to take part in the memorial service, she read some poem ( which sounds like it was about as good as my 15 year old self's poetry ) but she's still feeling sorry for herself. She's still not acknowledging the impact this boy's death has had on everyone who loved him. Zoe is a very frustrating character.
Ketchup Clouds is a quick and easy read, and it has it's moments - Zoe's family dynamic is quite interesting and kinda sweet - but in general this kind of book is the reason I'm not a huge fan of contemporary fiction: the drama I just don't give a fuck about, the irritatingly self absorbed characters and too many instances I just want to hurl the book at the wall in frustration at the sheer stupidity of the whole situation. People who enjoy contemporary YA will probably love this because although the majority of the subject matter isn't that unique ( the dreaded love triangle rears it's ugly head ) there is a somewhat unusual element to the story ( "murder" most foul ) which puts a slightly different spin on things. I just think this really wasn't the book for me.