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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Review: When I Was Joe

Author: Keren David
Release date: 7th January 2009 UK
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
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 is cracking under extreme pressure, and then he meets a girl with dark secrets of her own.

Review:
Rarely do you read a book that can change how you see the world and the people in it. Like many of you I'm sure, I have read hundreds maybe even thousands of books. I'm a librarian and I love reading so it is hardly surprising. Yet only twice in my experience as a reader have I ever so deeply connected with a book that it is engraved upon my very soul and becomes a part of my identity. The first book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It taught me about injustice and it taught me to have integrity and I love unconditionally it for that. The second is this book When I was Joe by Keren David.

This novel is told by Joe - or rather Ty - a boy who is all too familiar to me. He grew up in inner city London and went to a well-respected state secondary school. He respects his teachers and loves his Gran. He doesn't always see eye to eye with his mum. He  is a very believable teenager. The sort of boy that I have spent time teaching, recommending books to - not always successfully - and the type of student that you can see the endless potential to achieve in. I should probably explain further. Before I took the job I have now at my adorable prep school, I used to be an Assistant Librarian at one of the government's glossy new academies in South London. The idea of these schools is to give the best resources money can buy to deprived kids and then the gap between their achievement and their more advantaged peers will narrow. The results have been mixed. So you see, I know boys like Joe. Good kids, great potential, gang members. How does this happen? Thanks to When I Was Joe I finally understand the inner workings of these kids and it brings me to tears now as I write this.

I won't give away the answer. I will say if you see knife crime on the news and feel despair that our young people are at war amongst themselves, read this book. If you walk down the street and feel afraid of a group of teens in hoodies, read this book. If you've ever had the slightest inclination to carry a weapon to protect yourself, read this book.

I connected with this book on so many levels. I can relate to Joe's frustration that he was seen as having an inadequate upbringing because his mum had him at just sixteen and was a single parent. I get so annoyed when I hear David Cameron (UK opposition leader) spouting on about the breakdown of the family. I find it incredibly insulting and I feel incensed on behalf of my mum. She wasn't a teen when she had me but she brought me up single handedly from when I was 11 years old. I know how Joe feels about the assumption that he is somehow tainted by not having two parents in his house. Surely it is better to have one loving parent who you can tell anything to, than two unhappy parents that argue destructively in front of you? It is not the number of parents that count in my mind. It is how much love they give you.

The plot in this book weaves and winds, ravels and unravels. Joe draws you in and hints at the truth. He tells you different versions of the truth and shows us that however hard we try to mould the truth, it is still there waiting. I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through not knowing quite what Joe had witnessed. His voice was amazingly compelling. The way he could morph from one persona to another was spine-chilling and yet completely plausible, such is the strength of the characterisation in this novel. Each and every character had an individual and distinctive voice.

When I Was Joe has such poignance for me. It struck a chord deep inside me. This is a book that I will treasure for the rest of my life for the understanding it has given me about why our young people fall into violence. I find it hard to believe this is a debut novel as the power of this story has changed something in the heart of me. This book is exceptional! Buy it. Read it. Love it. I do!



Follow Keren David on Twitter @Kerensd and check out her blog here.

P.S. Not bad for The Bookette who doesn't "do" realism. I hope my next UK debut author read is as amazing as this.

21 comments:

LovesSam said...

Amazing review - you can tell how much this book means to you. I'm so pleased that you tried realism, and that you'll see how many amazing books that fall under this category, I know myself because it was only a month or so ago that I gave this genre a try. It sounds quite poignant, but, I can't read it, so thanks so much for sharing :-)

I Want To Read That said...

Wow - an amazing review! If there was any doubt in my mind whether I was going to read this before is isn't now! Can't wait to get my hands on this!

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Wow, thanks for the great review! Your love for this book is really obvious and I can tell this book really affected you - I love it when books do that, either for me or other people! :)

Luisa at Chicklish said...

What a wonderful review! Thanks for that. I loved this book too.

Sasha said...

What a great review! I can tell how much you really loved it! x

Adriana said...

What an amazing review! This book sounds really good. I love it when a book really makes you a part of it and you gives you a great insight into the world around you.

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Wow, great review! This book definitely proves that looks can be deceptive, because I would never have guessed that a book like this could be so moving. But I'm glad it was. Joe sounds extremely compelling, and I might have to see if I can look this book up sometime. Again, awesome review, and I'm glad you kicked your 2010 debut challenge off with a fabulous UK debutante! :)

Lea said...

Whoa, an amazing review! Thank you so much for posting, I'll definitely have to check this one out. :)

Book Monster said...

Your writing is superb in terms of how you wrote up a review for this book. It looks interesting. Have you read Invisible Lines by Mary Amato? Or Hold Still By Nina Lacour? I recommend those two to you to read!!! :) :)

StephTheBookworm said...

Amazing review. It's great when a book can really speak to you. I hadn't wanted to read this book before, but now I do!

prophecygirl said...

I agree with everything you said - this book is so well written and powerful that it's hard to remember it's a debut novel.

I read it yesterday and honestly couldn't put it down. It's rare that a book completely grips you like that, but I'm glad this one did.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow. I loved reading this glowing review. Bravo darling!

Lauren said...

This is a really powerful review, Becky, so that definitely tells me that the book itself is going to have a serious impact. I'm still a little scared of reading it (I read for escapism, and the rise in knife crime freaks me out) but you've made me see that I should face my fears and pick this one up.

Shweta said...

Wonderful review yet again.. I am definitely reading this book.

brizmus said...

You always review the coolest sounding books that I've never heard of!
Joe sounds so relate-to-able. And yet not at the same time.
I'll have to check this one out.

The Book Bug said...

Awesome review, its been one of the best I ahve read in a while. I must have this book, if its as good as you say, which it must be, then I will have to read it.

Jo said...

Fantastic review, Becky! I completely agree with you, this book is such an eye-opener! I really loved the book, and your review is brilliant! It's great when someone's love for a book is practically tangible!

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

Thanks for reviewing this! I've seen it around, but never seen any reviews. Glad you liked it, and I'll be checking it out now I think.

Shy said...

Brilliant... Just brilliant!
Surely hope that it won't take too long for this to be available in Malaysia. I'll surely be keeping my eyes on this particular writer. Thank you so much for this great review!

Becky said...

Thanks for all your fab comments on my review. I am still completely in awe of this book and hope you are all ordering it from your favourite book seller.

Rhiana said...

What a great review! I will definitely be ordering it. As a single mum I hate the fact that statistically, my brilliant kids are already written off (I won't start on DC grrr), and as a mum to a newly teenager I think this would be really insightful. Maybe I could even entice my 13 year old son to have a read?