Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Review: When I Was Joe - Keren David

It's one thing watching someone get killed.  It's quite another talking about it.

But Ty does talk about it.  He names some ruthless people and a petrol-bomb attack forces him and his mum into hiding under police protection.

Shy loser Ty gets a new name, a new look and a cool new image.  Life as Joe is good.  But the gangsters will stop at nothing to silence him.  And then he meets a girl with a dangerous secret of her own.

WIWJ Series:
When I Was Joe
Almost True
Another Life

Visit Keren David's blog for more information

When Ty is a witness to a violent murder he makes a statement to the police telling them what he saw. He had no idea how his life would begin to unravel, but nothing will ever be the same again after a petrol-bomb attack forces him into a witness protection program. Fleeing from his home, Ty and his mother must take on new identities and remain isolated from their family and friends. Starting a new life isn't easy especially when you're trying to remember your new name and always looking over your shoulders for danger. The gang want Ty silenced before he can give evidence at the trial and they're prepared to do anything to make sure that happens.

I had read a couple of great reviews for When I Was Joe but I was still a little nervous about reading it - when I was young my Dad & Step-Mum lived in a not so nice area of south east London & I remember being chased home at knife point when I was only 8 or 9 years old. I worry a lot about my yonger brother living in an area where crime rates are high and I had a feeling that this book would hit a little close to home. In some ways I was right - Keren David has written an incredibly realistic tale of gangs and knife crime - but I'm so glad that I didn't let my nerves put me off reading this book.

Ty is an amazing character and one that has stayed with me in the days since I finished reading the story. His tale is so well written that I find it hard to believe that this is a debut novel. Ty's character isn't perfect and sometimes it can be hard to tell if what he says is the truth or not, in fact although some things are hinted at we don't get the full story of the crime he witnessed until very near the end of the book.

Although there is obviously information on gangs and knife crime this isn't the whole story - the main plot revolves around Ty's new life as Joe living under witness protection. I found it so easy to slip into Ty's head and feel exactly what he was feeling - how difficult it must be to leave everything and everyone you know and love behind, not knowing when or even if you'll ever be able to see them again. Remember how hard it was to start a new school? Now try and imagine starting a new school when you have to answer to a different name and you can't give away anything about your past. When you have to constantly lie to everyone around you it becomes hard to remember what the truth really is. Where do the lies end?

When I Was Joe is a book that will make you think and has something to offer for all ages - whether you're a teenager or an adult there is something to be learnt from Ty's story. One particular paragraph that has stayed with me was this:

Page 108 "I'm not carrying a knife because I've seen what they can do. But I need one for the same reason. It's a problem that nags at me all the time."

How many young teenagers today feel the same? It is something I find heartbreaking but it is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. We can't brush knife crime under the carpet - it isn't something that will go away if we bury our heads under the sand. If you're only going to read 1 book this year then I'd recommend When I Was Joe - it was a compelling read that I couldn't put down even if I wanted to and although the main subject of the story was hard hitting it was still light enough in places to make me laugh out loud. This really is a book that shouldn't be missed and I can't wait to read more of Ty's story in the sequel Almost True.

Source: I won this book from author Keren David in a giveaway on Twitter - Thanks Keren!

Other Reviews:
The Bookette
Once Upon A Bookcase
If you have reviewed this book on your blog please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll add the link here.


  1. Wow..This seems like a bit heavy to read.A lot of emotions and issue.I dont like to read something to make me nervous.But I think I might try =)

  2. Brilliant review! I love everything you said about WIWJ. It is just so truthfully heartbreaking. Well you know I love it.

  3. @ Darlyn - I didn't mean to make it sound like a heavy read - it was a really enjoyable story & it made me laugh out loud in places :o) It is a serious subject matter but I'd definitely recommend it!

    @ Becky - Thanks :o) I know how much you loved WIWJ, it was your review that really made me want to read it! I'm so pleased I listened to your recommendation!!

  4. I love the quote from WHEN I WAS JOE. It's a very chicken and egg situation. Street/gang violence occurs because people carry weapons for protection. Why do they need weapons for protection? Because everyone else has weapons. It's a tangled, impossible mess.

    If you want to read the first two chapters of WHEN I WAS JOE on our website, you can sign up at

  5. Hi Emily, you're so right about it being a chicken / egg situation. It's one of those issues that is difficult to resolve. I'm glad you enjoyed When I Was Joe, I have the sequel Almost True on my TBR pile & will be reading / reviewing it in the next couple of weeks. I can't wait to see what Ty / Joe is up to now :o)



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