Author: Keren David
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
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’ve had When I Was Joe on my radar since it was first published in January 2010, since then I’ve heard so many rave reviews – having read and loved Lia’s Guide To Winning The Lottery I had high expectations. Very high expectations!
And boy were they met – possibly even exceeded!
When I was Joe follows Ty who has witnessed a most terrible crime – a stabbing, Ty is planning to help the police with their enquiries – to help them put behind bars the people responsible. But with it comes a cost, a cost which endangers the life of him, his family and anyone he dares get close to. Resulting in the decision to place him into witness protection. And that’s when he became Joe.
I liked Ty as Ty – from the few pages of him we saw – he seemed like a good kid who got mixed up with the wrong sort of people. He had the impetus to do the right thing (at least some of the time) despite difficult situations. He had a mum that cared for him dearly and was clearly prepared to do anything for him. He was bright and in the most part sensible and had a potential future.
I didn’t so much like or warm to him as Joe – he seemed more confident (which is a good thing – I wish I was) and seemed to have many more opportunities, the school he was placed in seemed like a good fit and it’s teachers took a healthy interest in Joe resulting in opportunities being presented which matched exactly what he needed. Something which was often overlooked at his previous school.
But (and it’s a big but) the move into witness protection wasn’t a positive experience for his Mum, who lost her bubbly personality, lost her sense of self worth and lost everything she had worked so hard to achieve. This all put a pressure on Joe that wasn’t there before and so probably contributed in part to some of the bad choices he made and actions he took. (Though not excusable)
Admittedly some of this is probably down to the baggage he carried from his old life into his new one and without it things would probably have turned out differently. But life is what you make out of it and to be honest Joe could have made a lot more of his new life than he chose to. I was however pleased that some good things did come out of it.
I loved Ellie and Claire – even though they were sisters they seemed at completely different ends of the spectrum. Ellie seemed alive and enthusiastic while Clare was reserved and shy (you can guess who I related to more). I don’t really want to say too much about these two so I’ll leave it there but they really are amazing characters.
When I Was Joe took a route which took me by surprise – I knew it would cover some of the more dark areas of life – of living in areas of the county where gang culture is prevalent but I didn’t expect it to cover issues like self harm – the way this was explored was with such sensitivity without ever undermining the seriousness of the problem. Exploring one way in which someone can feel the need to self harm to cope with life – if you only need one reason to read When I Was Joe – this is it.
In a nutshell, if you haven’t read When I Was Joe then I can’t recommend it highly enough – hard hitting issues covered in a story which is both highly engaging and sensitive to it’s subject matter – fantastic!