Joe Public who was Ty Down

By Angela Kiverstein, January 28, 2010

Once, Ty was a misfit in school, tagging along behind cooler boys. But then he witnessed a stabbing. And now he is Joe, because the police have changed his identity to protect him. When I Was Joe is the debut novel from the JC’s own Keren David (Frances Lincoln, £6.99).

Teenage “Joe” starts a new life, with his hair dyed and eyes disguised by coloured contact lenses. Being Joe has its advantages — he is popular at his new school; he can have any girl he likes — from tarty, manipulative Ashley, to sad, secretive Claire. He is selected for special sports coaching by the beautiful paralympic athlete, Ellie. But can he trust his new friends, or even his mother, who is finding it difficult to cope?

And while “Joe” is hiding his past life from the other characters, is he also hiding something from the reader? What marks out When I Was Joe from other teen thrillers is the depth and realism of the characters and the insight into the tensions of school life. Joe is not a secret vampire; he has no magical powers. In fact, he has failings that threaten to destroy him. The plot twists are captivating but it is the human drama that makes this book so haunting. For age 12 upwards.

When the space shuttle Challenger blew up, its earthly form was lost, but its spirit survived in the limbo of Everlost. The same is true of hundreds of children, whose journey to the afterlife was interrupted. Neal Shusterman introduced us to this world in Everlost and now continues the story in Everwild (Simon and Schuster, £6.99).

Everlost is ruled by Mary Hightower, who makes it her business to snatch children who have not managed to travel on to “the light”. In Everwild, Mary is touring America in a ghostly version of the Hindenberg, the doomed airship. Her mission is to increase her kingdom but she has many enemies. Among these are Nick, who is gradually turning into chocolate because the only thing he can remember is that his face was smeared with it at the time of his death, and Allie, who can “skinjack”, or inhabit the bodies of “fleshies” — living people (the dystopia is peopled with extraordinarily inventive characters).

Everwild poses the question: which is better, everlasting half-existence, or death? And if we could keep people alive in a limbo state, should we?

All in all it is an inventive, thought-provoking read for age 12 upwards — but do warn off your kids from copying the scene involving amateur defibrillation using a knife in an electrical socket!

Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011