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too hard to answer some of the questions about his work which she had become obsessed by. His reply in unforgivably cruel, but the young people come out stronger for it.

If only the novel had ended there. But as in so many American films, the last section proves increasingly redundant and finally sentimental. Gus dies, Hazel mourns, and the parents concerned repeatedly cry, hug and tell their daughter how much they love her. The alcoholic writer is an unlikely presence at the funeral in search of expiation and Hazel just about lives on while experiencing anguished expressions of love for Gus both from herself and from everyone else who knew him. It is frankly a relief to finish a novel that begins so promisingly, sparkling even in the most daunting of circumstances before finally sinking under the weight of its determination to end on a ringingly positive note while making sure that absolutely no emotional stone is left unturned.

NT Being here HHHHH

Barry Jonsberg, Allen & Unwin, 252pp., 9781742373850, £6.99, pbk.

alone change it.’, says Leah when Carly asks if she has changed her mind about talking to her. Leah’s childhood with a mother whose mind has been warped by an obsession with the devil and sin, the solitary nature of their life with no friends or family to help the child, emerge from the pages without drama, and are more powerful for being presented as normal. The unlikely relationship between Leah and Carly, which becomes all important to Leah, grows as the story progresses. At times it is difficult to ascertain whether Adam is a product of Leah’s imagination or real, such is the skill of Jonsberg’s story. But her love for him is real as is her conviction that she will be reunited with him at the end of her.

This Australian novel first published in 2011 was the winner of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, and I would think would garner more awards as it reaches a wider audience.

JF Ketchup Clouds HHHH

Annabel Pitcher, 304pp, Indigo, 9781780620305, £9.99 hbk

Hunger HH

Melvin Burgess, Hammer, 293pp, £9.99 978 0 099 57664 8

This novel starts in a sprightly manner with a group of students swapping wise-cracks and affectionate put-downs while not missing out on drugs, alcohol and sex. Burgess has been here before, and as always writes well. But under the terms of the new Hammer imprint in partnership with Arrow Books, there is also the promise of some old-fashioned horror, and as soon as it appears this story starts falling apart. Ghouls when they make themselves evident are accepted with a disarming lack of surprise by principal characters. Although

New Talent

The Weight of Water HHHHH

Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury, 256pp, 9781408830239, £6.99 pbk

Kasienka and her mother come to Coventry from Poland, looking for Kasienka’s Tata (Father), who walked out on them two years earlier. Their story is told throughout in first person narrative by Kasienka. At school, where she is ‘Cassie’, Kasienka encounters prejudice and bullying, while life in the gloomy bedsit she shares with her mother is no easier. Obsessed with tracking down her husband, her mother has little time for her daughter and when Kasienka does meet her father again, she finds he has a new family. Redemption for Kasienka comes through swimming, which she loves,

kidnappings and murders follow no-one in the wider society seems to care very much, least of all any sort of police force. The chief ghoul is intermittently repulsed by a mixture of Christian doctrine and esoteric gleanings from the writings of the Elizabethan necromancer John Dee. But on the various occasions that evil forces from beyond finally seems poised to kill off all the young protagonists there is a puzzling lack of urgency about finishing he job. A rushed ending suggests that by this time the author had also got bored with his impossible story. How much more edifying and entertaining it would have been to read his adolescent memoirs instead, once promised on the publishing scene but to date still to appear.


and a place on the school’s team, and also through a blossoming romance with fellow swimmer, William.

This is a poignant and moving book, but what makes it unusual and very special is that Sarah Crossan has chosen to tell the story in blank verse. Contrary to what many might expect, this doesn’t make it a difficult read. The verse is no barrier to accessibility, but the opposite: spare and seldom overly lyrical, it works to provide both a strong narrative drive and direct emotional connection for the reader with Kasienka. We’re aware of the care she must take choosing words in English, and the form expresses this perfectly. It also brings language to the fore. When Kasienka’s mother learns her daughter has been visiting her father in secret, she is silent in her anger. Kasienka puts down the bully Clair ‘In a language I think she’ll understand’, a whispered ‘Why don’t you just piss off.’, though on the same page, she explains ‘When suddenly she sees my joy /My win/ And her power


dissolves.’ Highly AR

Leah is old and in a home. She wants to tell her story before she dies and the opportunity comes when Carly appears with her request for memories for her school project. Leah seizes this chance to tell the horrific story of how her father killed himself with a shotgun when she was five. Leah comforted herself with an imaginary friend Adam who appeared in the orchard of the farm. Over the years the farm shrinks as her mother sells off the land, and the two women live in isolation, a life formed by an extreme religious belief. Leah is punished and shut in the barn after professing that Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist was the best present she had ever had, a statement her mother considers a betrayal. Eventually her mother finds out about Adam and Leah is forced to choose between them.

This is an astounding and finely written book. Barry Jonsberg’s portrayal of what it is like to be old is heartbreakingly true, and tumbles out of the beautiful prose; ‘Sometimes I can’t find my mind, let

Annabel Pitcher won a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award and the Branford Boase Award 2012 for her debut novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. Her second novel, Ketchup Clouds, is the story of an ordinary fifteen year-old girl, Zoe, who has a dark and terrible secret she can’t tell anyone. In a bid to offload, she begins to write letters to a murderer on death row in Texas. Through these letters, Zoe slowly reveals her story.

Pitcher’s second book is full of suspense, drama and secrets, all of which are backed by a convincing story of first love and undercut by Pitcher’s light and subtle humour. There is so much to enjoy in these pages, not least the beautifully drawn protagonist and her interactions with friends and family, where the most casual, comfortable conversations interrupt the deeply moving ones. It shows Pitcher’s confidence in writing relationships that she per fectly balances pathos and humour with the ordinariness of teenage life. Ketchup Clouds is a memorable and compelling novel to devour in one, weepy sitting.

LF Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013 31

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