My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'Secrets, romance, murder and lies: Zoe shares a terrible secret in a letter to a stranger on death row in this second novel from the author of the bestselling debut, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece.
Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret—a dark and terrible secret that she can't confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder.
Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can—in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.'
After reading the back of the book in Waterstones I thought this is a book I must have, it sounded just like the kind of thing I would enjoy. Then turning the book back over I noticed the print of birds all on the pages...Oh my god! Beautiful, so if the blurb hadn't persuaded me to buy this book the print on the pages would have done!
When I began reading the book I discovered that these were only letters written to Stuart - the man on death row, I have of assumed that these letters were going to be coming backwards and forwards between the two characters. This is something I would have liked and I was a little disappointed when I began reading. Saying this, once into the book I realised I didn't actually need Stuart's voice in the book to make it.
Zoe, is the girl who writes letters to Stuart, this is not her real name and she gives a false address as she doesn't want a reply from him. She is carrying a secret and believes that she is just as bad as him, she needs to tell someone her secret and he fits the bill, he won't be around long anyway so he won't expose her. Saying this, as time goes on Zoe begins to really feel for Stuart and wants him to have another chance as she feels she has got. Zoe goes to the effort of writing to try and set him free.
There are many characters in the book that we can connect deeply with, mainly those in Zoe's family and how their actions have an impact on the rest of the family. I feel that Zoe's life is portrayed well and the situations she comes to are real and would be of those of YA. I am not in the target audience age range, I did enjoy the book and I found it a quick read as it captured my interest and I wanted to find out how it was going to end. However I would say that some of the situations and the way Zoe speaks in her letters are a little immature and this spoiled it for me slightly. Saying this, if I was reading this book as a 16, 17 year old as the book is intended for I may have a different opinion on this.
I enjoyed the title of the book and I feel this is something that would make readers pick the book up as you want to know what this means. I like that the reference of the title is bought up throughout the book a few times and this made me smile when I found out what the title meant.
The boys in the book - Max and Aaron I liked both characters and they were both very difference, Max I got the impression was a player but actually started to want to settle down with one girl - Zoe, however would still be a bit of a show man for his mates did have a good heart. This is illustrated when they complete the puzzle together from under the bed. I think this is also a moment when Zoe regards Max differently from how she had perceived him before. Aaron on the other hand I felt was more sensitive and you could tell he was older. He had a more mature attitude which I think was missing from both Zoe and Max. They both though were far from perfect and this is highlighted in the book.
The opening chapter really draws you into the book as this is when we find out what Zoe's secret it and then you spend the whole book wanting to find out how and this really keeps you hooked. It also makes it a really quick read as you just have to find out.
The only think I was a little disappointed about is the ending for Stuart, we don't get to know what happens to him and I feel that it would have been nice to, for Zoe to look it up as she does throughout the book and to relay it to the reader. Overall I think this is a sweet YA novel which does carry mystery and a little suspense. I am glad that I took the time to read it.