Teenager Ty witnesses a murder. Following advice from his grandmother, Ty identifies the killers and the police put him and his young mother under a police protection witness scheme. To emphasise the danger they are in, a petrol bomb is thrown through his front door as he and his mother are packing to leave and later his beloved grandmother is the subject of a vicious attack.
The incident itself (What did Joe actually see? Was this a racist attack? What was the motive and who was holding the knife?) is fed to the reader in small and I assume, deliberately vague chunks. By the end of the story we still don’t really know whether the accused are found guilty, whether Ty’s former best friend was an accomplice, or whether he and his mother will be able to return to their former life. The author’s website tells us that a sequel is on its way, so I assume that these important issues will be resolved in part two.
Despite this, David’s debut novel is a real page turner with strong characters and a lively, engaging plot. With new clothes and a different hairstyle, the formerly unconfident Ty reinvents himself as Joe, good looking and athletic, the most popular guy in his new school. Also well handled are the difficulties he and his mum face in coping with a new life without roots or history and of the continual threat of being discovered and forced to move on. I would have liked it even more if Ty’s London voice hadn’t been written in what the author calls his ‘gangsta’ accent. This is pretty excruciating to read.
Two of the people Ty/Joe meets on his journey are shy but interesting Claire, who has a private history of self harm, and her sister Ellie, an attractive, independent Paralympics contender and Joe’s athletics trainer. It’s always good to see active disabled characters in stories but in this one, Ellie is still traditionally dependent on someone to help her shower and dress (a job given to Jo/Ty’s mum), despite being independent in all other ways and able to go like the clappers in her racing wheelchair. This is unlikely to be how someone like Ellie actually gets through life.