Wednesday, June 23, 2010

REVIEW: When I Was Joe by Keren David

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.

Wow. When I picked up When I Was Joe from the library I really wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did. The other day, I placed it among the top 10 books I've read so far this year! Keren David did such an excellent job of making Joe into an incredibly likeable character despite all the mistakes he makes. When I Was Joe is a thoroughly engaging read and once I started, I couldn't bear to put it down.

But there are some really painful elements to this story, from knife crime and violence, the depression that surrounds Ty's mother in this difficult transition into the witness protection programme, the self-injury of another character. Really painful and serious topics. But throughout the book, Keren David was able to balance this out with some incredibly funny scenes and dialogue so that the book was able to hit a really great balance between the two. (More than a month later, I'm -still- giggling about a comment made by Joe about a Kanye West song!)

Joe/Ty is an amazing character. He's funny and interesting, but also quite flawed. We see everything from his point of view, and he's got a great voice. You can tell right from the start that he's not telling the whole truth about the events that led him to the witness protection scheme. He's holding his cards pretty tightly to his chest there, but as the story progresses we do end up with a clearer picture. And I find him to be a fascinating character, especially with his interest in languages.

When I Was Joe touches on some pretty important themes including identity and growing up. Ty really ponders this question of image during the course of this book. With a different name and hair and eye colour, is he still the same person? And the choices that Joe makes really end up determining the person that he becomes.

There's something for everyone here, from violence, to a wonderful main character, romance, humour, mystery. When I Was Joe is an exciting debut novel and I cannot wait for the sequel, Almost true, out in September 2010.


  1. Great review *try to resist adding it to wishlist*
    I thought you had been very quiet this week, now I know it is because you are catching up with the blog ;)

  2. Asamum, do not resist adding this book to the wishlist. This book is AMAZING.
    Sorry for butting in there. This was one of the first books that I read this year and I tell you it moved me. It made it's way on my to favourite ever books list which is very short. I love it. I love Keren for writing it.
    I love that you love it too. There is a lot of love with me today :-)

  3. You brought up some seriously relevant questions. Is identity static or in flux and it is something we can consciously change? What develops our identity? What develops Joe's?

    If anyone is interested in reading the first 2 chapters of WHEN I WAS JOE, they are posted on the beta version of our site which you can sign up for at


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