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Book Review

This thriller by Keren David is published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books and written for kids ages 12 to 15 years old. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness. Although not a series, there is a sequel to this book called Almost True.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Ty and his mom, Nicki, live in London — until Ty witnesses a murder committed by his friend Arron and commissioned by gang members. When Ty tells the police what he saw, they suspect he's in danger. Even as Ty and Nicki rush home to pack their belongings and enter the witness protection program, someone bombs their building.

Several officers oversee their relocation. An officer named Doug is assigned to check in on them, while Maureen gives them makeovers to disguise their appearances. Ty, who has been renamed "Joe," likes his darker hair and colored contacts. As Joe, he finds that girls pay attention to him. He even starts dating Ashley, a popular girl with a reputation for being loose. He begins training as a runner, coached by a wheelchair-bound, Paralympics athlete named Ellie. He's given a special gym access pass, which causes another boy (Carl) to bully him, perhaps out of jealousy. Meanwhile, Nicki is not happy with her frumpy new look and becomes depressed. She gets drunk and nearly burns down their apartment by letting a lit cigarette fall onto the couch. Ty begs her not to get them relocated again.

Ty learns the gang looking for him has beaten up his grandmother (Gran). The police sneak Nicki out of her relocated life so she can stay at the hospital. Maureen stays with Ty. When Carl and his friends nearly drown Ty during swimming class, Ty defends himself and ends up breaking Carl's nose. After temporary expulsion, Ty is allowed to return to school and must train alongside Carl as punishment. Ashley breaks up with Ty after he pulls a knife on some boys who follow them while they're at the park.

At a party at Ellie's, Ty accidentally walks in on his classmate Claire cutting herself. Claire is Ellie's younger sister. They begin to talk and develop a friendship. He promises not to tell her secret if she'll keep his. Then he tells her who he really is and how he was involved with a murder.

Ty is finally allowed to visit Gran. The police sneak him out at night. His presence, along with his recitation of the rosary, brings Gran out of her coma. As Ty leaves the hospital, police catch a gunman and move Gran to another location.

Ty and Nicki attend another party at Ellie's house. Ty hangs out with Claire, and Nicki makes out with Ellie's trainer. Claire's mother finds Ty and Claire together sitting in the dark and becomes concerned. Ashley, his ex-girlfriend, purposely humiliates Claire at school. Claire cuts herself and bleeds to the point of unconsciousness. Ty patches her up before the EMTs arrive, saving her life. But when Claire's parents find out Ty knew about the cutting and remained silent, they refuse to let him spend time with her.

The police relocate Ty and Nicki, and Gran comes to live with them. Ty decides to admit the whole truth to Claire via email. The truth is that he was more involved with the murder than he told the police, and that he actually cut Arron with a knife to get his friend to leave the crime scene.

Christian Beliefs

Though Ty says he's not religious, looking at Claire's cuts reminds him of a crucifix he's seen with Christ hanging on it. He says going to Catholic school has given him the idea that pain has some kind of supernatural power and meaning. Ty holds Gran's rosary and recites a Hail Mary in the hospital. She wakes up from her coma. After Claire cuts herself badly and is hospitalized, Ty says Hail Marys in his head because it worked like a miracle with Gran. Ty wishes he got the comfort Gran did from church and prayer. He says religion never connected with him, and Nicki would have thrown a fit if he'd gotten all holy.

When he begins attending Catholic school, Nicki reminds him he's got a mind of his own and shouldn't be taken in by Jesus, Mary and the Pope until he can make his own decisions. When Gran comes to live with them, she asks Ty if he'd consider going to church with her. He says probably not because he has a lot of homework. He thinks about going to confession but feels like he'd be there too long and wouldn't want to tell all about Ashley. He believes confession isn't meant for him. It's only for people like Gran who do good things. He recalls a sermon he once heard about Jesus giving people's souls an insurance policy. He says no one would give him an insurance policy now because he's like a driver who has had too many accidents and never really learned how to drive in the first place. Rather than trusting a priest, he decides to put his "fate" in Claire's hands by telling her the whole truth about his crimes.

Other Belief Systems

As a child, Ty learns from a TV show that you can "quit" a baby. (The word abortion doesn't appear). His mother assures him she wouldn't have wanted to do that, but the idea continues to nag at him. He eventually realizes if it hadn't been for Gran and her faith, he probably would have been aborted. He says a bit of his inner certainty and basic happiness died that day. Ty feels his troubles won't end until fate or God or "whatever" has severely punished him.

Authority Roles

Nicki was just 16 when she gave birth to Ty. Her concerns about getting older and her desire to party with friends consume her more than being a mother. Ty says Gran was more like his real mom. His father left years earlier. Ellie encourages Ty in his athletic abilities and befriends him by inviting him to her home. Her example of courage despite her disability inspires him. Maureen stays with Ty while Nicki is with Gran at the hospital. She sticks up for him when he's bullied at school and becomes someone with whom he can talk. The other police officers are mainly concerned with doing their job, caring little about the emotional health of their witnesses.

Profanity/Violence

There are dozens of uses of the Lord's name in vain and h---, along with fewer uses of the f-word, s---, d--n, crap, b--tard, b--ch, d--khead and p-ssed. When Nicki finds out Ty was carrying a knife the night of the murder, she calls him a bloody stupid boy and smacks him hard across the face.

Ty's apartment is bombed, Carl and his friends nearly drown Ty during swimming class, and Ty breaks Carl's nose. Ty sees Claire cut herself and is morbidly fascinated, wishing to see it again. After witnessing an explosion at Gran's hospital, Ty imagines his family turning into little scraps of blood, bone, flesh and hair.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Ty mentions magazines, including Playboy, going up in smoke when the shop beneath their apartment is bombed. He reads Maxim while waiting for his mom to try on clothes in the mall. He notices the girls in his new school are wearing push-up bras. He admires the lacy black bra Ashley is wearing under her bright-colored T-shirt. Classmates tell Ty the end of the year party is the guys' best chance of "getting some action." Ty often fantasizes about Ashley. They also enjoy a snog or two (the British term for a make-out session) during which he puts his hands under her shirt. A couple of Carl's friends take pictures of those two making out in the park. They touch Ashley's breasts as she's trying to get the camera from them. Ashley is referred to as a slapper or a slag, both British terms for a loose woman. She sends mixed messages regarding how far she'll go sexually, and she eventually breaks up with Ty because she's afraid of ending up like his mom. Ty has heard his mom called names due to her teen pregnancy.

Ty's friend Arron says learning languages is gay. After taking off her shirt to show Ty her cut marks, Claire, still in her bra, sits with Ty. He says later he gets a little stirred up when he thinks about it. Pointing out Ty's long legs, Ellie innocently brushes her hand against his crotch. Nicki witnesses this and stifles a giggle.

Ty says he's sometimes met men at the breakfast table, implying that they stayed overnight with his mom. He finds out Nicki has slept with Ellie's trainer.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Nicki has fun going out and drinking with friends. Ty worries when he finds her drunk in their apartment because he's never seen her drinking alone. In her drunkenness, she nearly burns down the apartment. Girls drink vodka in the park. People drink beer at a barbecue.

Smoking: Ty says Nicki prefers caffeine and cigarettes to food. He tries some of her cigarettes, though he'd never smoked before their relocation. One of Nicki's cigarettes almost burns down the house.

Bullying: Ty's friend Arron verbally bullies him into carrying a knife and being violent. He demonstrates a sense of respect for Ty only after Ty cuts him (Arron) and urges him to leave a crime scene. Carl becomes violent with Ty, nearly drowning him, when Ty receives a gym access card Carl can't get. Ashley bullies Claire and other girls by telling them with whom they can speak and by making fools of them in public if they disobey.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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