Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Released: January 7th, 2010
Grade rating: A
When Ty witnesses a stabbing, his own life is in danger from the criminals he s named, and he and his mum have to go into police protection. Ty has a new name, a new look and a cool new image life as Joe is good, especially when he gets talent spotted as a potential athletics star, special training from an attractive local celebrity and a lot of female attention. But his mum can t cope with her new life, and the gangsters will stop at nothing to flush them from hiding. Joe s cracking under extreme pressure, and then he meets a girl with dark secrets of her own.
When I Was Joe isn't an easy book to read, based on the harrowing and all-too-realistic subject matter. It's honest and raw without being unbelievable or over-exaggerated, and packs a punch that'll leave you mulling it over for days
Main character Ty, who, after being placed in the witness protection programme, is forced to change his name to Joe, is a very strong character. He's instantly likeable, and this bodes well when it comes to sympathising with him and his unfortunate situation. Even after he becomes Joe and his personality changes, he's still a typical teenager with everyday, mundane issues to deal with. He never lets anyone in, and deals with his isolation remarkably well.
His budding friendship with successful paraplegic Ellie is both comforting and worrying. There's always the chance he'll get a bit too close to her and slip up, revealing his real name or previous life. It's like he's constantly walking on eggshells that can never, ever be broken or disturbed. Living with such fear and secrecy is hard and demanding, and author Keren David never fails to hammer that point home.
Though the rest of the characters are all well-written and engaging, none of them stand out quite like Ty. It's the only complaint I have about this novel, which just goes to show that nothing is perfect. Maybe it's because they're not as endearing, or perhaps it's because Ty overshadows everything going on around him. He successfully carries the whole novel, and even if he was the only character featured in the story, I don't think it would have made a difference. Ty's mum Nicki is a particular highlight, and her struggles with her new life are often heartbreaking. She knows her old life could be lost forever and, armed with that knowledge, she tries to carry on moving forward to the best of her ability.
Knife crime is a frightening violence that is rife in many parts of the UK, and is something that just can't be ignored. While all cases might not be as extreme as Ty's, it does happen, and innocent people's lives are ruined, altered and forever changed. Keren David addresses this issue with the utmost severity, and never glorifies life as a main witness to a crime. Without books like these, people could very easily forget what's happening right under their noses; even as close to home as the school their child attends. For that reason alone, When I Was Joe should be read, enjoyed and learned from by everyone. It's never too late to pay attention.