Review: When I Was Joe – Keren David

Synopsis from Goodreads.
When Ty witnesses the knife murder of another boy he identifies some very dangerous people and the police put him and his mother into hiding in a witness protection scheme. While they are packing, a petrol bomb is thrown through the front door of their flat, highlighting the extreme danger they face. Over the coming months, Ty becomes Joe, is given a new look and starts at a new school. To his surprise, he finds he is attracting the attention of the girls in his class, and the boys find his need to conceal his real identity cool – being Joe is not so bad. His ability as a runner is spotted and he starts training under a college student, a wheelchair user who is a Paralympics contender, but this special treatment attracts resentment. Somehow Joe keeps drawing attention to himself despite his efforts to remain anonymous. Then his beloved grandmother back in London is badly injured in an attack designed to flush Ty out of hiding and demonstrates the relentless determination to silence him.
This wonderfully gripping and intelligent novel movingly depicts Ty/Joe’s confusing sense of identity in extreme danger – a remarkable debut from a great new writing talent

A few months ago, I made some New YA resolutions. One of them was to read more British YA books and it’s probably the only one I’ve actually stuck to. Seriously…. I’m so bad. *sigh*
Anyway, I think I have got to that stage, with the help of Ms David, where I’m no longer surprised when I read a British YA book and end up absolutely loving it. Since reading the likes of Sita Brahmachari, Phil Earle, Anthony McGowan, Malorie Blackman etc etc* , I’ve come to the conclusion that even though we (ok, ok the royal we) don’t necessarily write the dystopian books or the paranormal books that everyone is talking about and losing their minds over, we… ok fine they write the most captivating contemporary books out there at the moment.

The Australians may hold the crown for the heart-wrenching contemporary, but British writers will always hold the title for the gritty ones. They take the stuff that is on the news, the stuff that kids nowadays grow up with and turn them into captivating stories that make you laugh, make you cringe, make you cry and make you angry.

And When I Was Joe is no exception. What I loved most about Joe’s story (or Ty’s depending on how you want to look at it) was that it wasn’t dramatic and wasn’t a sprawling adventure. This story is happening on a street like yours. It’s waiting for you when you get off the bus you get on every single morning. It’s harrowing because you know it, or at least something similar, has happened before. I mean, you only need to turn on your television to see the horrifying effects of knife crime and gang violence across the UK. To read a book like this is often difficult and it’s not always fun, but it’s worth it because it’s different. And a really great yarn.

I also loved the characters and how they gelled together. But I especially loved Joe and I am so glad that Ms David didn’t make him into a boring, simple cut out automatic hero that you love. Basically, I liked that he was a bit of a twonk and I actually found myself scowling at my Kindle because of some things he did and said and WHO he did them to. But I won’t say anything more about that.
My name is Jo and I judge fictional characters.

Actually, it wasn’t just Joe that Ms David did this with. It was so great (and only slightly infuriating) how she introduced a character and I felt all smug because I thought that I knew exactly why they were in this book and what their role was going to be and I was all like “Oh, nice try, we’re obviously going to think that [censored for spoilery bad times] is [censored for spoiler bad times] because [censored for… yep, you get it]” and then Ms David smiles evilly, cracks her knuckles and says: “Oh yeah?” and then boom.


Also, and I don’t know whether this is just because I am still feeling a little Olympic/Paralympic hangover or because I am a huge fan of all things athleticy, but I absolutely adored that Joe was on the athletics team. I love my middle distance runners so it was excellent to read about him and his training and his races. It was really refreshing to have a boy character who knew that sport didn’t begin and end at Old Trafford. Also, Ellie and her Paralympic dreams? BRILLIANT. How apt I chose to read this book at this time!

Anyway, I won’t witter on too much about this book because the longer I spend on this review the longer it will take me to read all the other books I’ve told myself I have to read before I pick up the sequel and I accidentally read the first few pages of the teaser and HOLY MOLY.


*etc etc etc etc.

9 thoughts on “Review: When I Was Joe – Keren David

  1. I love Brit YA almost as much as I love Aus YA, you guys have some awesome writers and I agree that they know how to be real and gritty and much less clichéd than American YA.

    Also, I am going to work twonk into my daily vocab :)

    • Oh Mandee! Yes! I could kiss you for that comment.
      Have you read this yet? I definitely recommend it (and all the others in this review). I hope you do and adore it as much as I did.


      I can’t wait for twonk to reach Aussie shores… :-p <3

  2. Jo, I just realised I saw this for a great price on kindle and I didn’t buy it. How foolish of me. Because now I really need to read it. Paralympians in YA – oh yes :)

  3. Pingback: Review: Almost True (When I Was Joe #2) – Keren David « weartheoldcoat

  4. Pingback: On Writing: Keren David on British Contemporary « weartheoldcoat

  5. I am so glad you reviewed this because not only is it an awesome review, but without it I wouldn’t have found this book! I loved reading When I Was Joe and am really enjoying Almost True. I definitely need to read more British YA! :)

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