Natasha is the popular one at school. Every girl wants to be seen with her, every girl want to be her. Becca used to be Natasha’s best friend - best friends forever, they said. But the school food chain is a capricious and unforgiving monster, and Becca was long ago swapped out for a girl called Jenny, because Jenny was cooler, Jenny was thinner and prettier than Becca. Jenny and Hayley – another of Becca’s ex-friends – are Natasha’s henchwomen. They rule the school roost.
Dynamics change when Natasha dies for thirteen minutes. She doesn’t know how she fell into the river; she can only remember the suffocating darkness that tried to drown her, that returns each night to haunt her dreams. Experiencing death hasn’t left Natasha with memories of the afterlife’s warm glow, but it has given her a rekindled fondness for her old friend Becca and suspicion for her best friends Jenny and Hayley.
There’s a reason why Natasha died for thirteen minutes, and she and Becca want to know what it is.
When I think back to how I fitted in at school, I can acknowledge that I was much cleverer than I realised, but also every bit as naive as I remember, especially about needing acceptance from the select groups. 13 MINUTES uses the caste system that most of us recognise from school but turns it into something far more sinister. The mystery of what happened to Natasha is swirled around in the chaos of popularity wars, schoolyard power plays, social media and the general angst of being sixteen. Everything is important. No one is innocent.
Parents and adults float around the outskirts of the story like the ghosts of youth. However wise and experienced they might be, they have forgotten what it means to be a sixteen-year-old student; they no longer understanding their children. Natasha and Becca, the queen and the rogue together again – they are free to make their plans and investigate the ever-deepening enigma of Natasha’s missing memory. And their journey will keep the reader wrong-footed to the very end.
As a writer myself, I have a habit of studying the mechanics of a novel – how the story was pieced together, which plot devices and character tropes were used – but 13 MINUTES well and truly broke that habit for me. Sarah Pinborough is a writer whose works I’ve always enjoyed, but with this book she might’ve raised her own bar. I thought I had predicted so much of the plot, but I was wrong nearly every time; and even when I was right, events never unfolded as I was expecting. Pinborough has written a clever story that uses the misguided and self-centred microcosm of the sixteen-year-old’s world to blur the edges of reality.
Question everything, guess at nothing. You really need to know why Natasha died for 13 MINUTES.