When I Was Joe - Keren David

Title: When I Was Joe

Author: Keren David

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Release Date: 2010

Category: Young Adult

Source: From UK Book Tours

Hardback: 364

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’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 am not entirely sure what I was anticipating when I started this book but... WOW! I have been taken in the story from the very first pages and I have been blown away by this book's plot, characters and storytelling.

Tyler is a shy 14 year old who witnesses a crime. He is convinced by his family to go testify to the police and finds himself in a much broader situation where his testimony has tremendous effects against a very influential (and dangerous) gang member. He has to go into witness protection program, change his identity and try to live a normal life as Joe in a small town with people still trying to kill him and his family to prevent him from talking and the upcoming trial. Unlike Ty, Joe is a bit of a badass, very cool and almost immediately in trouble at his new school.

I absolutely love Ty/Joe's character, he is just so realistic for a teenager that you instantly fall for him, but his personality is also full of layers so that he remains a bit of a mystery along the book. I really liked his spontaneity to most of the situations. I also like the relationship he has with his mother. I see so many 15/16 year old girls with kids that I can't help but wondering what happens when the child is 14 and the mom barely 30. 
The secondary characters are all fantastic as well. I particularly loved the different personalities and the relationship between Ellie and Claire. One has a fighting spirit and the other lives in the shadows. It was fascinating how Joe reacted to those girls and how, sometimes, vulnerable Ty came through.

The plot seems very straightforward until you realise that some details are missing. You keep wondering about what happened that fateful night where Tyler witnessed the crime. I absolutely loved the tension which builds up in the book and how the book ends. Boy, I didn't see that one coming!

This is going to sound weird (bear in mind I am French and all things British are for me exotic and cute) but the book is very British and shows really well the multicultural life of London (and East London in particular) and typical British cultural aspects. The characters are so spot on that I could visualise them in my head from people I have met on the street. But more than the story and the characters, I find it a really fascinating novel to read for someone not living in the UK or a foreign person living there. I absolutely love books which give us a glimpse of another culture and this one is simply perfect.
Although it is more prominent in the sequel Almost True, I really liked the whole gang culture theme in the book and the insecurity people feel in London. It definitely makes us think about youth today and how they react to insecurity (may it be physical or about their future). Ty didn't grow up in a wealthy environment and it was really interesting to read his story, which might be the story of quite a handful of teens, sadly.

The storytelling is absolutely amazing! I thought it was a good idea to read a couple chapter before going to bed... Then I received a text and realised it was past midnight and I had read a third of the book. You'd think I care about looking like a zombie at work... Well not really, all I thought about the next day was my lunch break to continue reading the book (okay, and yummy food a little)! That's how obsessed I was and that's how fantastic the book is!
And it's just not this, but all the dialogues are amazing, and it felt like I was reading what real teens would write, even the gangsta conversations! 
There are some amazing laugh out loud moments and I've been talking about them to everyone because it's just so funny (and I am still laughing at Joe asking a nerd in the small town if they do "guns and knives" in this school  LOL)!

And I love the title! Read the book and you will understand what I mean. Same for Almost True.

Okay, okay, I am going to stop fan-girling (for now!) because I could go on for pages but this is a fantastic book (actually, fantastic series, I loved the sequel Almost True) and one you absolutely shouldn't miss. Everything in it is perfect and you will be hooked from the first pages. Keren David is an author to look out for and I will definitely be reading all her future books!

You can follow Keren on Twitter: @kerensd

Thanks to Lynsey from UK Book Tours and Narratively Speaking for sending me the book!


  1. i agree with everythingyou have said.... so true!

  2. Wow, this sounds so good. I've already got it on my wishlist but now I think it's moving up the list, fantastic review :)

  3. What a lovely and very enthusiastic review. I agree about the novel evoking the multicultural side of London. I felt that too. I completely share your fan girl exuberance where Keren's novels are concerned. She is amazing.