Review: When I Was Joe

Author: Keren David
Publishers: Frances Lincoln Children's Books (7 Jan 2010)
Genre: Young Adult
Summary: 14-year-old TY witnesses a knife murder. With the persuasion of his grandma, he identifies some very dangerous people. From the police station, once he signs his statement, Ty’s world is turned upside down.

The reader is propelled into the plot from the very first line.  Ty is forced to go into witness protection program, but consequences of Ty’s action become clear after a petrol bomb is flung into their apartment building. The gangsters want Ty silenced, and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to make it happened.

I’ve never read a teen book about witness protection program- and I think this is what makes this novel fresh and unique! I loved reading about the teen’s perspective of the hardships about having to relocate and adapt to a new identity. I loved reading about Ty’s perspective of the witness protection program.
Starting a new school is hard for any teen, but imagines having to lie about everything. Your name, your family, and the most basic of information. I wanted to jump into the novel and give Ty a big bear hug. With a new haircut, new contact lenses and far from London, Ty turns into Joe.

I loved Keren David’s honest, raw portrayal of Ty. Ty’s voice shines through from the start. Through everything he goes through, I felt Ty develop and mature beyond his years- something that is shown clearly through the voice and his internal dialogue.

Our teen years are a time dominated with trying to ‘find’ ourselves. We slowly start to develop our own identity, and grow into our own personality. Keren portrays this effectively through Ty’s struggle between two very different characters. Two very different sides of himself

Ty- The quiet, shy boy who was once desperate for the respect and acceptance of his peers.
Joe- The suave, sexy, and mysterious new kid that attracts a lot of attention.

The relationship between Ty and his mum was also something I enjoyed. A lot of YA don’t really develop the parents/guardians of the main characters, but Keren’s depiction of Nikki was again very real. She was a young mother, struggling to raise her son and keep her own work/social life intact. What I loved the most was the fact Nikki wasn’t perfect! She had flaws, and at times, she relied on Ty more than he relied on her. Her imperfections riled me up at times, I wanted to shout and scream at her to do something- anything- to help Ty. This reader-character interaction is what keeps the reader turning the pages. So kudos to you, Keren. (Did I just use the word ‘kudos’? Damn)

The tension was high throughout the book. As a reader, I was always wondering if Ty was safe! And, the tension exploded during the climax of the book.  I was somewhat overwhelmed by the ending, there was so much happening. Questions where popping of in my head about so many different characters and the consequences of their actions! A few sub-plots where left unsolved, I really wanted to know the reply to a certain email! But, YAY, there is a sequel!

Nevertheless, what makes the book stand out the most is Keren’s portrayal of London. As a Londoner, it was spot on. The diversity, the cultural richness, the energy and the constant bustling was showcased brilliantly!  I related to the book, and I absolutely adored its Britishness (is that even a word? Hmmm)
Unfortunately, Knife crime is a growing problem in London. Hundreds of teenagers a year are losing their lives due to Knife crime.  I’m so glad Keren didn’t shy away from this grim fact. She also delved into the horrific world that is gang culture. Keren was able to show why people carry knives- the helplessness many boys feel and the protection carrying knives provides them with. But most importantly, she showed the dire consequences of carrying a knife and the bleak future if you are convicted of a knife crime.

There was a strong and powerful message in this book. A message that moved me.

The characters, especially Ty, have stayed with me long after I finished the last page.

A marvellous debut from an exciting new YA author.