7th January 2010, Frances Lincoln Children's Books
384 pages, Paperback
Summary from Frances Lincoln
When Ty witnesses the knife murder of another boy he identifies some very dangerous people and the police put him and his mother into hiding in a witness protection scheme. While they are packing, a petrol bomb is thrown through the front door of their flat, highlighting the extreme danger they face. Over the coming months, Ty becomes Joe, is given a new look and starts at a new school. To his surprise, he finds he is attracting the attention of the girls in his class, and the boys find his need to conceal his real identity cool - being Joe is not so bad. His ability as a runner is spotted and he starts training under a college student, a wheelchair user who is a Paralympics contender, but this special treatment attracts resentment. Somehow Joe keeps drawing attention to himself despite his efforts to remain anonymous. Then his beloved grandmother back in London is badly injured in an attack designed to flush Ty out of hiding and demonstrates the relentless determination to silence him.
Before I get on with the review, I would like to tell the tale of how I got hold of this book. I can't remember whose blog it was, but somehow I got led to Keren David's blog. I surfed around, liked what I saw and wrote to Frances Lincoln publicity. A week or so later, and this book arrived on the doormat. Whoever it was who provided that link, thank you. I've found a new great author and an equally great now publisher.
I have always been intrigued by witness protection. I never, ever wish to be in a situation where I need it. Sadly, incidents of knife crime are on the rise. I can't comprehend how people get into the place where they feel the need to stab people. To me, it doesn't make sense (says the reviewer who likes bashes monsters in a video game). That's why I requested this book.
I'm glad I did. It may not be a happy book, but it taught me a lot. It taught me the circumstances some children have to live in, why they fear so much for their lives that they have to carry knives. That accidents happen. That sometimes there isn't an end for those under witness protection.
Ty's feelings as he copes with carrying a new identity touched my heart. In some ways it is a fresh start, he can be who he wants to be. But he can never escape his old life - after all, that's why he has become Joe. The relationship he has with his mother isn't an easy one - it was significant that he doesn't call her mum until he becomes Joe. And even then it's only so he doesn't call her the wrong name.
There is action from the moment Joe begins his tale - the petrol bomb in the shop below the flat he lives in drives home exactly how much danger he is in. The criminals he is going to testify against will stop at nothing to reach him. They manage to hurt his family - that particular part of the book has lots of heart-in-mouth moments. It is so hard for him to sit and not be allowed to visit his gran.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is how Ty slowly reveals the truth of what happened. He doesn't tell the police everything. He avoids lying by leaving some parts of the truth out. He isn't as innocent as he appears. His fear is real, his emotions are real, but there is something darker in his personality. A darker side which he begins to show to people. A darker side which gets him in trouble, and which enables him to help save a new friend's life. For Ty forms strong friendship with a family who life has dealt hard cards. A friendship which is tested when some of his dark side is revealed to them.
When I Was Joe definitely touches on the darker side of humanity, broaching additional issues of self-harm. Joe's thoughts on Ellie's life in a wheelchair are accurate, and show the softer side of him.
The story doesn't finish at the end of the book - the sequel which carries on Ty's turbulent life, Almost True, is set for publication later on in 2010.
Keren David writes updates on her work as well as other writing news on her blog.
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