About the Book

Title: Ketchup Clouds
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Truth in Advertising
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Heartbreaking Epistolary Hilarity
Bonus Factors: Message in a Bottle, Sisters, Library
Anti-Bonus Factor: Bickering Parents
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Cover Story: Truth in Advertising

Why, yes—those do look like condiment cumulonimbus. And the bird isn’t just there to be trendy; it’s actually important to the story! The muted tones are appropriate for the subject matter, and this is also the only kind of face-on-cover I can tolerate, i.e. obscured. I may not be in love with the cover, but it’s earned at least a golf clap.

The Deal:

Zoe is wracked with guilt, and she can’t keep it to herself anymore. She shares her story from England with a death row inmate half the world away—someone who knows what she’s been through. Someone who’s also taken a life. Confessing the truth won’t undo Zoe’s mistakes, but it’s a start to putting her life back together.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Zoe, I know you feel like you can’t confide this tremendous guilt to anyone. But I’d volunteer as tribute! As long as, y’know, I don’t have to be incarcerated to hear your secrets. Not that I think you’re just gloom-and-doom emo or anything; you’re witty and vivacious, and your capacity for compassion is astonishing. What happened was terrible, and you’ve thoroughly punished yourself for it. While I don’t believe anyone deserves a second chance, you’ve most certainly earned one. And I’d love to read the kids’ book that you’re writing!

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Annabel Pitcher just might be a wizard, y’all. She conjured up TONS of swoon from a love triangle—and one with cheating implications, too. But it’s so lopsided that it doesn’t even seem like a love triangle. Zoe starts dating the cute and popular Max, but she forges an electric connection with The Boy with the Brown Eyes from a party. These two just fit together so well that they even defy yet another common YA pitfall, with the miscommunication that separates them being sad instead of frustrating.

Talky Talk: Heartbreaking Epistolary Hilarity

You know that whole “the truth will set you free” thing? Zoe sends her innermost thoughts to Stuart Harris, a Texas death row inmate that she has no intentions of ever hearing from. Her letters are poignant and beautiful and sometimes rambly—but it’s the best kind of rambly, and it infuses much welcomed humor into the story. Just like with her debut novel, Pitcher’s gift for balancing comedy and tragedy is in fine form.

Bonus Factor: Message in a Bottle

Close up of a person's hands while writing a letter

I wouldn’t call Zoe and Stuart pen pals, since she doesn’t even give him her real name or any way of contacting her. But this one-sided correspondence provides the catharsis that Zoe desperately needs.

Bonus Factor: Sisters

Claudia resting her head on Janine's shoulder (Kishi sisters from The Baby-Sitters Club)

Zoe has two younger sisters: feisty middle child Soph, and adorable little Dot. Dot’s also deaf, so the entire family is fluent in sign language.* Anyway, Zoe rocks at being a big sister, and it’s great that the girls have each other with all the arguing that their parents do (more on that later).

*Knowing another language comes so in handy for having private convos in public, btw. It’s like you’re a spy sharing secrets! Or just multilingual, whichevs.

Bonus Factor: Library

Masters Library from Game of Thrones, multi-stories

As if libraries weren’t already some of the most magical places in the world! Zoe works at one, which is where The Boy with the Brown Eyes visits her on a few occasions. The Dewey Decimal System has never been swoon-ier.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Bickering Parents

Two little wooden people facing away from each other.

Zoe’s parents are in constant argument—the kind of painful fights that make you question if these two people ever even loved each other. And they do a poor job of hiding their trubs from their daughters, too. (The children! Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

I’ve been agonizing over what this book means to me. Much like guilt and forgiveness, my feelings aren’t that simple. It’d be nice and easy if this book and I were the rainbow-unicorn-happiness type. But what we have is real and it hurts, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Ketchup Clouds is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.