Saturday, 13 August 2011
Review: Numbers by Rachel Ward
For as long as she can remember Jem sees the numbers when she looks into someone's eyes. They show the date that person will die. She avoids making eye contact with anyone, and getting close to people. She is labelled a "problem child" and passed from foster home to foster home. This is a very dark and gritty novel from the start as Jem's mother died of a drug overdose and Jem has obviously had a very hard life. When Jem meets Spider she is at first her usual rude and distant self, but Spider's jokes and persistence wear her down, and Jem agrees to skip school and enjoy a day out in London. As they walk past the London Eye Jem notices that everyone has the same number- it's that day, and as she and Spider flee the scene of a what turns into a tragedy, they themselves become suspects.
This is also a spotlight on poverty and life on the wrong side of the tracks. Jem and Spider are flawed by the process of a social care system, school system and prison system that don't really care about them. Their teacher Mr McNulty shows a complete contempt for his class and has clearly already written them off, completely taking away any sense of self-worth from his pupils, and Spider's wonderful but quirky Nan loves Spider and is proud of him but gives him absolutely no support or direction. Ward's dark and gritty descriptions of the teenagers of the slums of London's suburbs, are uneducated, angry and bitter at the world. When their faces appear as suspects on the news Spider is adamant that no-one will see the truth- only a black guy from a bad background already in trouble with the law, and that their only choice is to hide.
This was a fantastically unique and original story set in the UK. At first I had a little trouble identifying with the main characters Jem and Spider, who are the skipping school, vandalising, car stealing types, but from about half-way through the book you can't help but love them and root for them. Spider especially is very funny and you know that he would do anything for Jem. And Jem herself is so strong in some ways but completely vulnerable in other ways. It took me until the second half of the book to feel any connection to these characters, but their connection to each other and their emotional journey is very touching. Knowing the date that Spider will die is a curse on Jem. As they rapidly come to rely on each other on the run from the law Jem wonders if the future is set, or if by knowing about it she can change their future.
The ending itself is just perfect- powerful and emotional, leaving you with that just punched in the gut feeling! I really need to get my hands on book 2 now!
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