When I Was Joe by Keren David

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When I Was Joe by Keren David

Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Stunning and harrowing debut from Keren David is both exciting and thought-provoking. Ty's journey into witness protection is a great read which is hugely recommended for teenagers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
ISBN: 978-1847801005

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We meet 14 year old Tyler and his young mother Nicki at the police station as he gives a statement about a stabbing he witnessed. Unfortunately for them, some of the people involved would rather not allow him to testify against them and he's forced to flee for his life, moving into the Witness Protection scheme and starting afresh in a new school. Despite the vicious thugs on his trail, there are certain compensations to life at his new school. Formerly just a face in the crowd at St Saviour's, the mysterious newcomer quickly becomes popular, especially when he gets involved in athletics and is coached by older teen Ellie. Not everyone's happy with the impact he makes, though, and he needs to worry about rivals in school nearly as much as he does about the gangsters who are still trying to silence him. And then he meets a girl with a dark secret of her own…

There are many words to describe When I Was Joe, but the most appropriate one is almost certainly 'Wow'. David's taut style, fast paced plot, and believable characterisation make it utterly thrilling right from the first chapter. Ty is a great central narrator and the people who surround him are really vividly fleshed out, while the quality of Keren David's writing is superb. One scene in particularly – I'll refrain from giving specifics as it's very difficult to do so without giving a major spoiler – is brutally intense and actually surprisingly disturbing to read. That said, there's nothing horrifically graphic here and it's definitely one I'd be happy to recommend to mature teens.

While the premise of witness protection and huge amounts of action made it sound like a book aimed squarely at the young male market, the romance is also really well-handled and both boys and girls are sure to love this one. In fact, it's interesting that the action element is relatively restrained in favour of great character development and the problems Ty faces settling into a new school while having to try to avoid standing out, cope with contact lenses to change his appearance, and lie about pretty much everything. David also does an outstanding job of revealing more and more about the true events of the night Ty witnessed the stabbing, completely taking me by surprise with the way the story develops.

One thing I should definitely mention, though – the ending is a real cliffhanger – it's turned the sequel Almost True into a complete must-read for me and is likely to do the same for anyone else who enjoys this gripping novel. While this is an extremely high recommendation, I have to say it comes with a warning – you might want to buy both books at once so you're not left desperately waiting for the conclusion of the story!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For more thrilling action for teens, the obvious place to go – as mentioned above – is sequel Almost True. For a fun read which is perhaps less thought-provoking, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series really is superb.

Buy When I Was Joe by Keren David at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy When I Was Joe by Keren David at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy When I Was Joe by Keren David at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy When I Was Joe by Keren David at Amazon.com.


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