Earlier this year, I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone to read Keren David's debut novel, When I Was Joe, about London teenager Ty, who finds his life changed forever when he witnesses a knife crime. Placed on the witness protection programme, shy schoolboy Ty becomes popular Joe, but finds that he can't escape his past that easily. When I Was Joe was an instant hit with me, and I've been desperate to read the sequel, Almost True, ever since.
From the first page, Almost True hits the ground running. When his mum's boyfriend is killed by attackers who mistake him for Ty, our hero finds himself packed off again to hide out at a new location. But instead of assuming yet another false name and identity, he comes face to face with a part of his history he'd forgotten all about. This time around, Ty isn't running away from his past: instead, he's forced to confront who he is and where he comes from in a way he never expected to. We're back inside Ty's head as he struggles to deal with the mistakes he's made, uncovers deeper causes for his actions and takes responsibility for his role in the tragic event that left one schoolboy dead and another on trial.
In Almost True, Ty finds himself holed up in far more cushy surroundings than he's used to. Having been raised in a tough part of London by a single mum, he now gets a chance to sample the more privileged life he could've led - with the other family he's never known. While this might sound like a sweet deal, for Ty it brings its own challenges in the host of new family members awaiting him: a gruff grandfather, a kindly grandmother, and a father who's not at all what he imagined. Best of all, there's posh cousin Archie, who seems worlds away from Ty at first but has the potential to become a much needed ally.
Of course, Ty is still being hunted by criminals who want to kill him, so we're never far away from the possibility that the most terrifying part of his past is about to catch up with him. There's plenty of action here as Ty embarks on a mission to meet up with his girlfriend Claire, who knows he's hiding an explosive secret from the police. When his journey takes him back to the neighbourhood where all the trouble began, we know that the inevitable confrontation and retalliation is drawing ever closer. Tense, dangerous and nerve-wracking, this is real edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Once again, Ty's voice is pitch perfect, so that reading Almost True feels almost like listening to an actual teenage boy relating his own story. He's funny and infuriating and heartbreaking all at once, and it's downright impossible not to be on his side - even when he's making seriously bad choices. And while he sometimes talks rubbish or flies off the handle too easily, sometimes he talks a lot of sense. Take his reaction to his girlfriend Claire's explanation of Twilight, for instance: a girl loving a vampire who kind of wants to hurt her just doesn't sound right to him, despite the fact that millions of us eat this stuff up as 'romantic'. Although he's still got a way to go, you never lose faith that he'll get there.
One of the reasons When I Was Joe was so compelling is that it didn't preach to its audience or tell them what to think, and Almost True takes the same approach. It's about Ty first, and the issues second. Ty explores the consequences of his choices and Keren David gives the reader credit for being smart enough to make their own mind up. The result is an edgy and seriously gripping sequel with every bit as much impact as the previous book. I'd urge everyone to pick up Almost True, because once you do there's no way you'll want to put it down again. Powerful and real, this one will stay with you.
Out: September 2nd 2010, UK
Thank you to Frances Lincoln for providing a review copy of this awesome book.