I got this book in the mail two days ago (from the lovely Walker Books!) and I was delighted - I've been reading Keren's blog for a few months now, and reading rave reviews of When I Was Joe on UK blogs around the interwebs.
As always when I start reading a book I've heard great things about, I worried it woouldn't live up to expectation - no one ever wants to read amazing reviews of a book and then pick it up and be disappointed. But I wasn't! When I Was Joe totally lived up to the praise.
This novel was fantastic - unique voice that grips you from the first page, and a highly original concept. I think it'll appeal equally to both boys and girls, from thirteen up (there are themes of violence, self-harm and mild sexual references, but the characters are all around thirteen and fourteen and everything is dealt with tactfully). It's edgy and dark without being too confronting, I think, because of the amount of humour in it.
I think at times the British setting seemed really foreign (they use words like 'chav' and 'slapper' and other things I haven't heard of) and since my only real exposure to British culture was Shaun of the Dead, I sometimes had trouble following (the names of shops I'm not familiar with pulled me out of the story for a second). Ty/Joe is a great narrator, but the entire time you're reading you're wondering - is he good or bad? And what really happened? I think I was slightly frustrated by that.
Once I started reading, I didn't stop (okay, I did. But I had to do my Accounting schoolwork. Then I went back to reading). Before I began reading, it seemed pretty long for a YA that isn't fantasy or paranormal, but I barely noticed how long it was while I was reading. Hopefully reluctant readers won't be turned off by how thick the book is, because it's immensely readable and very exciting.
The start of what's sure to be a brilliant series, and I can't wait for the next book.
You can find the author's blog here: http://wheniwasjoe.blogspot.com/