WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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. This wonderfully gripping and intelligent novel depicts Ty/Joe's confused sense of identity in a moving and funny story that teenage boys and girls will identify with - a remarkable debut from a great new writing talent.

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/

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