Monday, February 1, 2010
When I Was Joe: READ IT!
So many kids' books contemplate what would happen if we really could change our lives. What if I'm secretly a princess or a fairy queen, what if I could be an astronaut or an adventurer? What if I could be the most popular kid in school?
WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David takes this common premise and twists it to create a thriller of a teen novel: a child's dream and nightmare rolled into one. Ty goes into the witness protection program to become Joe. He gets a new look, money for stylish clothes, even colored contacts. He's pushed back a grade at his new cushy school, so he's head of the class, tall, muscular, and the boy every girl wants. Except he still carries a knife, sees the blood over and over again in his mind, and quickly discovers "the gangsters will stop at nothing to silence him."
Is your heart racing yet? Mine sure was!
Every chapter of WHEN I WAS JOE ends on a cliffhanger, so I tore my way through the book, stopping only to check how many pages I had left (thankfully JOE's over 300! Thankfully there's a sequel coming out this year!).
Besides its killer premise, Keren populates her novel with remarkably real people. Ty/Joe is a typical 14-year-old boy: sexually charged, making dumb mistakes, utterly focused on his image above everything else. Yet the reader can also see into his heart and feel his fear. I laughed my ass off and cheered for Ty the whole way through. The characters who surround Ty are equally well-developed: his poor Mum goes through her own devastating transformation in the witness protection program, his coach is a driven athlete competing for a spot in the paralympics, her younger sister, shy, hidden Claire, is hiding a dangerous secret of her own. I even loved Ashley, the mean girl Joe initially falls for--how true to real life she was!
And I loved Keren's East London setting. At the beginning of the novel, Ty and his mum live above a newsagent who shares man-to-man advice with him and teaches him Urdu. He learns Turkish from the nearby kebab shop, Polish from a hotel worker. Keren perfectly captures the thrill of a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic neighborhood. And her characters reflect this as well. It never felt like a set of boxes to be ticked (Indian, check, wheelchair-user, check), only real life. If only more authors would celebrate diversity like this.
WHEN I WAS JOE by Keren David is already out in the UK. It comes out in the US this fall. Its sequel, ALMOST TRUE, will be available in the UK this August. READ IT!!!!*
And follow Keren's fabulous blog at http://wheniwasjoe.blogspot.com/
*Full disclosure: Though Keren David and I have never met in person, she's a good blog/Twitter/FB friend. I bought JOE and read it on the sly so I wouldn't have to let Keren know if I didn't fall in love. I needn't have worried. I quickly discovered how great it was and I needed to tell you: READ IT!!!!