'I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.'
Hannah's father was the driver in the crash that killed Katie. But Hannah has survived and as the narrator of this realistic, raw-edged novel, she cannot recall precisely what happened on that morning that led to the crash. While Katie was the popular, party-going big sister, Hannah is the introspective outsider, hounded and punished for a friendship that turned physical.
Following Katie's death Hannah becomes 'the protected', her antagonists too afraid to push her further, but the scars and the isolation remain.
The Protected is illuminated by Hannah's flinty and fragile voice while her wicked humour resists sentimentality.
Zorn also shows the technical skills to balance past and present time and create a tight, emotionally intense novel. The pacing, the narrative shifts and the slow unfolding of Hannah's identity are flawless.
One other striking thing about The Protected is how little it is interested in any idea of the afterlife: its ethics and morality are firmly focused on the living and the novel is very much more than the sum of its issues.
The result is a poignant, emotionally affecting novel marked out by Zorn's skillful handling of language and an artist's eye for telling details.