Thursday, September 29, 2011

When I Was Joe by Keren David

Published January 1, 2010.

It's one thing watching someone get killed. It's quite another talking about it.

But Ty does talk about it. He named some ruthless people and a petrol-bomb attack forces him and his mum into hiding under police protection.

Shy loser Ty gets a new name, a new look and a cool new image. Life as Joe is good. But the gangsters will stop at nothing to silence him. And then he meets a girl with a dangerous secret of her own. (book back blurb)

This book hooked me in right from the beginning. David has a simplistic way with words that both conveys the deepest emotion possible for the character while being as poignant as can be. That's a hard balance to strike and I think David does it perfectly. The words are simple but they're deep enough to suck you in and hold you there.

I thought that Ty was an immediately likable character. You can't help but latch onto him as soon as you find out he's on the run, which is pretty much right from the beginning. The story starts on some pretty high action and while it peters out, the threat of something happening lingers just beneath the words and keeps you, and Ty, on edge. His actions in his new life are indicative of the paranoia he's bound to have.

I was less than thrilled with his mom, Nicki. She would be someone I'd deem a Mom in Denial. She'd had Ty young, 15 I believe, and she kind of hangs that guilt on him at times but lifts it off of him and puts it on herself the rest. It's kind of underhanded and the jabs can be subtle but they're there. She nearly blows their cover because she gets to slip back into the teen mode that she missed and a lot of the time, I just don't pity her. I'm thinking I should but . . . you sleep in the bed you make. I don't feel the situation she's in is a result of shitty parenting. The best parents in the word can end up with kids that hang out with the trashiest kids. I just think it's a matter of circumstances. She didn't do anything bad per se but she's not a contender for the mom of the year award either. Perhaps cut in half all those times she spent going out and singing drunk karaoke and things might have turned out differently. Parents have to have lives of their own too but not at the sacrifice of their children.

But Nicki and Ty work well off of each other. Ty makes up for the parent that Nicki isn't (which isn't something he should be doing but rather a role he was kind of forced to step into) and she is a mom when the situation calls for it (most of the time). Ty is a character that sees his faults and tries to improve on them. And I think that's the most important, and endearing, part of him: how he wants to improve himself. He tries so hard but sometimes things slip. Maybe they could have been helped, maybe not. But he tries as much as he can and I like him for that.

When Ty has to make another switch I felt his escape was a little too easy (an escape from the situation at school as opposed to thugs on his ass). He made some mistakes that he was about to be punished for but the bobbies had to come in and move him because he's become too high profile. By the end of the book he's pulled a 360, going back to something resembling his old self, just without friends at all. Really, I'm surprised he wasn't psychotic by the end of the book for all the personalities he had to juggle.

And I liked his relationship with Claire. It was probably the purest thing in Ty's life and I was sad when he had to let it go. It was something so nice and sweet that he could hold on to, that balanced out everything else in his life. He could be himself around her and I felt at as much of a loss as Ty did when Claire was ripped away from him. But she lingered and I'm glad for that.

WHEN I WAS JOE is a unique contemporary that deals with something wholly unpleasant, and something that really isn't talked about much. How can it? Witnesses in witness protection tend to keep their lives hidden. So getting a glimpse into this jilted lifestyle and seeing how ruinous it can actually be was eye-opening. But Ty handled it all so well and I think he's such a fantastic character for it. He's still human, and he shows his human side quite often in the book but it only functions to make him a more dynamic character. If you're looking for a book that shows strength at it's greatest, WHEN I WAS JOE is it.

Ban Factor: High - There are some sexual innuendos thrown in there and there's plenty of swearing. While it might not be at the forefront of the banner's ban list, I wouldn't be surprised if it's on there already.
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