13 Minutes | Sarah Pinborough | 2016 | Gollanc | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book
Tasha Howland is pulled from a freezing river. For thirteen minutes this beautiful, popular girl was fully immersed in the water, not breathing, her heart still – she was dead. But, preserved by the intense cold, Tasha is pulled back from the brink to the edge of life and lies in hospital in a coma, her parents and friends around her bedside. Everyone wants to know what happened. Nervous text messages flit between Tash’s two closest friends Jenny and Hayley while DI Caitlin Bennett observes and investigates. Tasha’s parents desperately search for a way to wake up their daughter. Rather surprisingly they turn to Becca, Tasha’s oldest friend but one she had replaced with the Barbies, Jenny and Hayley. Finally, Tash awakes but with the memories of that night gone. She clings to Becca. The world has been made anew.
In 13 Minutes, Sarah Pinborough has painted a truly astonishing, genuinely insightful portrait of teenage life. Like most people, I was a teenager once and I remember what life at school was like and this novel brought memories, mostly not good memories it must be said, flooding back like the cold, cold river that almost claims Tasha’s life. Tasha is the star, she has it all and her clique, the Barbies, dominates. But Tasha controls Hayley and Jenny as much as she does everybody else. But when she wakes from her coma, she seems a different person entirely. She welcomes Becca back into her world, she reminds her parents of what she was once like. She seems kinder.
But everything hinges on what happened in the hours and minutes that preceded Tasha’s fall into the water. Everyone is waiting for Tasha to remember. And so we watch and wait, listening in to Becca’s account of the days following the accident, mixed with texts from her friends, extracts from DI Bennett’s case report, Tasha’s interviews with her psychologist Dr Annabel Harvey. Tasha is encouraged to write a journal as that too might help her to remember and so we also come across passages from that. All of the different voices combine to form the mystery of what happened to Tasha Howland while starkly and shockingly laying bare the minds of these teenagers.
13 Minutes is a mesmerising, utterly compelling read. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. So many secrets are stored in these manipulative lives and it is fascinating discovering them one by one as Sarah Pinborough slowly, expertly, brilliantly reveals the truth. We’re allowed close to Becca but even she is careful what she hides and I didn’t care for her much more than I did for anybody else. It’s unnecessary to like anyone in the book. It’s more then enough to watch and marvel.
Sarah Pinborough is such a clever writer. She certainly knows her way into the heads and hearts of her characters while keeping her readers on edge, longing for more, as shown in last year’s fantastic The Death House. 13 Minutes is a treat to read from start to finish and, without doubt, is a Young Adult novel that should be read and enjoyed by anyone, of all ages. An early contender for a place on my list of 2016’s top books.
The Death House