When I Was Joe by Keren David
Fourteen year old Ty recounts to police a murder he witnessed in a park committed almost by accident by his best friend, Arron. Another older boy pushes the victim on to Arron’s knife. Ty runs for help, stopping a bus to call for an ambulance, while everyone else runs away. Ty doesn’t know one of the boys is the son of a crime boss who is determined to prevent Ty from testifying. After hours with the police Ty and his mother are taken back to their apartment to pack some clothes; while they’re there someone throws a gasoline bomb into the shop right below them.. The police hustle them out the back as the building is on fire. After they spend two weeks in a motel a police specialist changes their appearances with haircuts, new hair colors and colored contact lenses before they’re moved to their new home, 50 miles from London where they lived. Ty enrolls in a new school under the name Joe with a younger age and grade. As Ty/Joe settles in to his new school, his mother struggles with her isolation, missing family and friends, and wants to stop her son from testifying. When the criminals beat up Ty’s grandmother in an attempt to stop his testimony, Ty realizes how serious his situation is. At the same time he is dealing with a bully at his new school.
A sequel to this book, Almost true, continues the story of how Ty, his mother and family deal with the decisions they have to make. While Ty, in the witness protection program, waits to testify about a murder he witnessed, he comes back to police cars at his home and a pool of blood at his front door. He learns his family is safe but hitmen shot a man they thought was Ty. When Ty’s aunt starts believing the police can’t protect him anymore, she makes him move to live with people she knows out in the country. Even as Ty adjusts to a new living situation he still has to go to court several times to testify. Without giving any of the plot away, I can say these two books present teenager readers with some ethical dilemmas to consider.
Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson