This is a sequel to a YA book that absolutely blew me away, When I was Joe. This is a British series, about a teen boy named Ty living in London. In When I was Joe Ty is put into witness protection because he witnessed a violent crime. Most of the way through that book, you don’t know what happens – the crime and Ty’s past is revealed slowly as he works through problems in his present.
In the present he is Joe. And while Ty was quiet, shy and small (he only had one friend Aaron, who is the fellow that got him into the trouble in the first place), Joe is tall, fit and tough (in part because Ty is put in a lower year at school, and in part because he is from the city and comes off as tough in a gentler neighbourhood). The voice in this book was amazing – I loved the way Ty developed his Joe personality as a shield, and used it to explore aspects of himself that he hadn’t before (his talent for track and field in particular). The novel also didn’t flinch away from the problems of gangs and urban violence and the consequences they have – Ty’s life didn’t get easy or rosy, but he did find some decent people who helped him deal with his emotions a bit.
When I was Joe ends on a cliffhanger, and Almost True begins right where that one left off. I really enjoyed the beginning and end of this sequel – Ty has to pick up and run once again. This time he finds himself with a family he has never met and finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings. The tough guy persona he’s developed clashes with a sedate, upper class home where his grandparents live. But for all his rough edges, there are things about Ty that make you love him no matter what – he is surprisingly tender at times; totally accepting of cultural differences; comfortable with women (he grew up with his mother and grandmother); and has a fondness for ironing, which is so touching. I also loved the characters of his cousin, his grandparents, his father, as well as learning more about his mother.
Where I got bogged down was all the running away Ty did in the middle of Almost True, particularly to meet up with his love interest from the first book. I found the whole sequence slow and a little besides the point. For a good two hundred pages, Ty seems to make one stupid decision after another, based on drastically flawed interpretations of situations and people. He apparently suffers from post-traumatic stress, which is understandable, but he does come off as being a complete idiot. Once he slows this down and we actually get to the book’s conclusion, the story became compelling once more. The revelations about his past were fascinating and unexpected, but believable. And (not to give too much away) I really enjoyed how the court scenes were portrayed.
Overall, I did get annoyed and bogged down partway through and I think it could have used another draft. But thinking back, I really did enjoy Ty’s story. I’ve tried not to give too much away here, as these books (at least the first one) are really worth the read. Some of the best teen suspense/action I’ve read in a while.