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Friday, 12 March 2010

Review: Numbers

Author: Rachel Ward
Release date: 5th January 2009 UK / February 2010 US
Genre: Gritty realism with a hint of the paranormal
Target audience: 13+

Summary from Chicken House:
Since her mother’s death when she was seven, fifteen-year-old Jem has kept a secret. When her eyes meet someone else’s, a number comes into her head – the date on which they will die.

Knowing that nothing can last forever, Jem avoids relationships, until she meets Spider, another outsider, and her life takes a happier turn. But on their first day-out together, waiting for a ride on the London Eye, Jem realises something terrible - everyone in the queue has the same number – and her world is about to explode.

Numbers is a powerful, gritty and dark portrayal of teenage life in the UK. It has one element of the paranormal but the book is firmly grounded in our society. Fifteen year old Jem is living with her foster mum Karen. She is disaffected. The system isn't working for her. She is unhappy at school and intentionally shuts herself off from other people. Her story is hard-hitting realism that at times left a bitter taste in my mouth. Rachel Ward conveys the pain and resentment building inside Jem with a shocking accuracy. Her voice is still echoing around my head. The issue which sets Jem apart from our other disaffected youths is her ability to see the numbers. Every time Jem looks into a person's eyes, she can see their number. The date they are going to die. How does a character in such need of love and affection allow herself to connect with another person if she knows they are going to die? She doesn't or not at least until she meets Spider. He doesn't actually give her a choice.

Spider is such an endearing character. He is bursting with a zest for life, an insatiable energy and an admirable sense of optimism. Jem is almost his opposite. She is controlled, at times robotic and the only emotions she allows herself to feel are those which are destructive and fuel her anger. Perhaps their friendship is an unlikely pairing but I think they both share a feeling of being part of the underclass, of not belonging in the system. They have a cruel teacher who humiliates students by predicting their future to be one of unemployment, drugs, crime or of uninspiring jobs. The sad truth is for many of our young people this poverty cycle is real and demoralising. They see themselves fated to live a life of hardship and misery. It would be nice to think in real life that teachers have the power to improve the chances of social mobility for their students. I'll leave that thought there before I get all emotional about the state of the inequality of opportunity in British society.

The plot of this book was powerful and swift-moving. The cliffhangers at the end of the chapters kept me wanting to read on and on. I wanted to know if the numbers were set in stone or whether Jem would have the power to change them. There was one part of the story that I thought was a bit too unrealistic. Without giving anything away, it was the scene with the police dog. However, the skilful writing in this novel made me stare the harsh reality of the teen life straight in the eye. It was a pretty awful sight but it was certainly powerful.

Overall, Numbers is a book which will force you to confront the dark, failing parts of our society right in the face. It will grab you and won't let you go until you get to the end. I was reminded a little of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses series and think if you enjoyed that, you'll be hooked on Numbers. It is not an easy read but an engaging one which left me thinking about life, death and the power to be in control of your own destiny. I highly recommend it.

NB: Thanks to Lauren @ I Was A Teeange Book Geek and Chloe @ The Book Bug for encouraging me to read this.


Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Thanks for the review! I've seen this on other blogs a lot and I really want to read it actually, all these good reviews have got me all intrigued about this book and I really like the premise soooo I might give this one a try!

brizmus said...

I think Jem is really going to be the kind of character I have trouble with.
But any book that takes society head on and makes you consider the dark things going on - I'm all about it.
Thanks for this great review. I will be reading this booK!

prophecygirl said...

I really liked this one, and am looking forward to the sequel. And isn't the cover amazing in person?!

I know what you mean about the cliffhangers - they were great if you could carry on reading, but bad if you had to put it down! Evil, evil authors. ;)

Christina/Book Addict said...

Great review, Becky! I've had my eye on this book for some time now. You are definitely on a gritty realism kick. I'm going to put this one on my TBR pile!

Cleverly Inked said...

A little bit of a challenge, SOunds great

Charlotte (The Book on the Hill) said...

Reading your reviews makes me realize how much my english vocabulary is lacking...! I really need to go and live in England for a while ! This book sounds interesting, and your review is great ! :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. I love your writing. This book is a mega hit right now :)

Dwayne said...

Great review here - I'll take this out next time I get to the library :) And I just realised you're a UK blogger too - even more awesome!

Lauren said...

I'm really that you liked this one. It's not the easiest read but I did find it mostly very gritty and real. That said, I don't recall the scene with the police dog at all. I'll have to have a flick through the book to remind myself.

Excellent review as ever. :)

Luisa at Chicklish said...

I agree that this is an excellent review! Thank you. I've heard so many great things about this book!

The Book Bug said...

Thanks for the link- nice suprise! Awesome review, I agree with you.

Becky said...

Happy Friday everyone.

Jenny, you're right the cover is so eye catching. Praise be to the designer for thinkigng up something so cool.

Christina, yep I am going through a reading transformation. It is weirdly refreshing. I blame it all on Keren David. She is the absolute best.

Charlotte and Juju, thanks for the compliment on my writing. I'm actually blushing! I love you guys.

Dwayne, thank you for stopping by. It is great to see a new face. And yep, UK all the way.

Lauren, I hope you find the bit I mean. I did think it was pretty bogus but then I don't know much about police dogs. Definitely not a light read but I agree a worthy gritty read.

Luisa, thanks as always for the lovely comments.

Book Bug, it is a pleasure. You know I think your blog rocks!

Nina said...

It sounds like a great read, really something that afterwards you think about life. Maybe not the right book for me at the moment but I am willing to give it a try. Great review!

Leah said...

I've frequently seen this around and it sounds incredibly intriguing. Thanks for a great review!

Jill of The O.W.L. said...

Wow such a different cover from the US ones. Not sure which one I like better.

Thanks for the review. Sounds awesome. I shared the book trailer with my students and they loved the idea for the book!

I Want To Read That said...

I was a bit torn with this book. I really liked the writing, main character etc but just found it so bleak. Glad you liked it and loved your review:)

Lea said...

Love your review, Becky! It sounds so intriguing, and I always love it when chapters end in little cliffhangers!

runnersami said...

This is the first I've heard of Numbers. It sounds like a great read!